Russians keep pressure on Mariupol after hospital attack; massive convoy breaks up

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Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank as a convoy of vehicles evacuating civilians leaves Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022. (AP)
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A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 11 March 2022
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Russians keep pressure on Mariupol after hospital attack; massive convoy breaks up

  • Residents of the southern seaport of 430,000 have no heat or phone service, and many have no electricity
  • Russian convoy stalled by food and fuel shortages and Ukrainian attacks

MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Civilians trapped inside Mariupol desperately scrounged for food and fuel as Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the port city Thursday, while satellite photos showed that a massive Kremlin convoy that had been mired outside the Ukrainian capital dispersed and redeployed.
International condemnation escalated over an airstrike in Mariupol a day earlier that killed three people at a maternity hospital, with Western and Ukrainian officials calling the attack a war crime. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian refusal to permit evacuations from the port city amounted to “outright terror.”
Meanwhile, the highest-level talks held since the invasion began two weeks ago yielded no progress, the number of refugees fleeing the country topped 2.3 million, and Kyiv braced for an onslaught, its mayor boasting that the capital had become practically a fortress protected by armed civilians.
Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies showed that 40-mile (64-kilometer) convoy of vehicles, tanks and artillery has broken up and been redeployed, with armored units seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reported.

 

The convoy had massed outside the city early last week, but its advance appeared to have stalled amid reports of food and fuel shortages. US officials said Ukrainian troops also targeted the convoy with anti-tank missiles.
In Mariupol, a southern seaport of 430,000, the situation was increasingly dire. More than 1,300 people have died in the 10-day siege of the frigid city, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
Residents of the southern seaport of 430,000 have no heat or phone service, and many have no electricity. Nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing, and daytime ones normally hover just above it. Bodies are being buried in mass graves. The streets are littered with burned-out cars, broken glass and splintered trees.
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the Russians began a tank attack right where there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.
On Thursday, firefighters tried to free a boy trapped in the rubble. One grasped the boy’s hand. His eyes blinked, but he was otherwise still. It was not clear if he survived. Nearby, at a mangled truck, a woman wrapped in a blue blanket shuddered at the sound of an explosion.
Grocery stores and pharmacies were emptied days ago by people breaking in to get supplies, according to a local official with the Red Cross, Sacha Volkov. A black market is operating for vegetables, meat is unavailable, and people are stealing gasoline from cars, Volkov said.
Places protected from bombings are hard to find, with basements reserved for women and children, he said. Residents, Volkov said, are turning on one another: “People started to attack each other for food.”
The local fire department and the city’s State Technical University were bombed.
An exhausted-looking Aleksander Ivanov pulled a cart loaded with bags down an empty street flanked by damaged buildings.
“I don’t have a home anymore. That’s why I’m moving,” he said. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It was hit, by a mortar.”
Repeated attempts to send in food and medicine and evacuate civilians have been thwarted by Russian shelling, Ukrainian authorities said.




Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank as a convoy of vehicles evacuating civilians leaves Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022. (AP)

“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol. They want to make them starve,” Vereshchuk said. “It’s a war crime.”
All told, some 100,000 people have been evacuated during the past two days from seven cities under Russian blockade in the north and center of the country, including the Kyiv suburbs, Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy told Russian leaders that the invasion will backfire on them as their economy is strangled. Western sanctions have already dealt a severe blow, causing the ruble to plunge, foreign businesses to flee and prices to rise sharply.
“You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address. “And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens — everyone whom you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed such talk, saying the country has endured sanctions before.
″We will overcome them,” he said at a televised meeting of government officials. He did, however, acknowledge the sanctions create “certain challenges.”
In addition to those who have fled the country, millions have been driven from their homes inside Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said about 2 million people — half the population of the metropolitan area — have left the capital.
“Every street, every house … is being fortified,” he said. “Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.”
On Thursday, a 14-year-old girl named Katya was recovering at the Brovary Central District Hospital on the outskirts of Kyiv after her family was ambushed as they tried to flee the area. She was shot in the hand when their car was raked with gunfire from a roadside forest, said her mother, who identified herself only as Nina.
The girl’s father, who drove frantically from the ambush on blown-out tires, underwent surgery. His wife said he had been shot in the head and had two fingers blown off.
Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days and are seeing heavier losses and stiffer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow apparently anticipated. But Putin’s forces have used air power and artillery to pummel Ukraine’s cities.


Early in the day, the Mariupol city council posted a video showing a convoy it said was bringing in food and medicine. But as night fell, it was unclear if those buses had reached the city.
A child was among those killed in the hospital airstrike Wednesday. Seventeen people were also wounded, including women waiting to give birth, doctors, and children buried in the rubble. Images of the attack, with pregnant women covered in dust and blood, dominated news reports in many countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack “a shameful and immoral act of war.” Britain’s Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, “it is a war crime.”
US Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, backed calls for an international war-crimes investigation into the invasion, saying, “The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as “pathetic shrieks” from Russia’s enemies, and denied Ukraine had even been invaded.
Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, held talks in a Turkish resort in their first meeting since the invasion.
The two sides discussed a 24-hour cease-fire but made no progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia still wanted Ukraine to surrender but insisted that will not happen.
Lavrov said Russia is ready for more negotiations, but he showed no sign of softening Moscow’s demands.
Russia has alleged that Western-looking, US-backed Ukraine poses a threat to its security. Western officials suspect Putin wants to install a government friendly to Moscow in Kyiv as part of an effort to draw the former Soviet state back into its orbit.
In Vienna, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had scheduled inspections of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. Rafael Grossi would give no details on how or when the inspections would take place.
Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four power plants across the country, plus the closed plant in Chernobyl, scene of a 1986 nuclear disaster. Fighting around Chernobyl and another plant have raised global fears of another disaster.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, 91-year-old Alevtina Shernina sat wrapped in a blanket, an electric heater at her feet, as cold air blew in through a damaged window. She survived the brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.
Her daughter-in-law Natalia said she was angry that Shernina “began her life in Leningrad under the siege as a girl who was starving, who lived in cold and hunger, and she’s ending her life” in similar circumstances.
“There were fascists there and there are fascists here who came and bombed our buildings and windows,” she said.


Russia, US accuse each other at UN Security Council meeting of sabotaging world order

Updated 5 sec ago
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Russia, US accuse each other at UN Security Council meeting of sabotaging world order

  • Russian foreign minister says US ‘has long, through the words of its presidents, declared its own exceptionalism’ and ‘demands unquestioning obedience’ from allies
  • US condemns Russia for hosting a meeting to discuss the ideals of the UN while ‘actively engaged in a war of aggression against its neighbor’

NEW YORK CITY: The very foundations of the international legal order, strategic stability and the UN-centric system of global politics are being put to the test, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs said on Tuesday.
It will be “impossible” to resolve the conflicts that are multiplying around the world without getting to their root causes and restoring faith in the ability of nations to join forces in pursuit of the common good and justice for all, he added.
Sergey Lavrov accused the US and its allies of impeding international cooperation and efforts to build “a more just world.”
He added: “They’re taking entire countries and regions as hostages (and) distracting from the necessary joint efforts to regulate conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and other regions, in reducing global inequality, eliminating terrorism, drug trafficking and famine.”
As he chaired a signature meeting of the Security Council, of which Russia holds the rotating presidency this month, Lavrov said: “Not all states represented in this room recognize the key principle of the UN charter of the sovereign equality of all states.
“The United States has long, through the words of its presidents, declared its own exceptionalism. This also ties to Washington’s attitude toward its allies, from whom it demands unquestioning obedience, even to the detriment of their national interests.
“Rule America: That is the essence of the notorious rule-based order, which is a direct threat to multilateralism and international law.”
The high-level open debate, attended by more than 50 states including the Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, was titled “Multilateral cooperation in the interest of a more just, democratic and sustainable world order.”
Lavrov accused Western countries of interpreting the UN Charter in a “perverse and selective manner depending on what instructions are handed down from the White House.”
He added: “The sabotage of resolutions on the Middle East can be discussed endlessly. Everyone remembers the statement of the US permanent representative regarding the fact that Resolution 2728 of March 25, demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, was not legally binding.
“In other words, these American rules are more important than Article 25 of the UN Charter.”
Quoting George Orwell’s allegorical novel “Animal Farm,” Lavrov said: “‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.’ If you fulfill and obey the will of the hegemon, you’re permitted to do anything you wish. But if you dare defend your national interests, you will be declared a pariah and sanctioned.
“Washington’s hegemonic policy has not changed for decades. Every Euro-Atlantic security arrangement, without exception, has been based on ensuring US dominance. This has included the subjugation of Europe and the containment of Russia.”
Lavrov accused NATO of subjugating the EU, and blamed the crisis in Ukraine — and what he described as the “coup d’etat” of 2014, referencing the protests in the country a decade ago that
culminated in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected closer integration with the EU — on the “reckless expansion” of the military alliance.
He urged “all those genuinely interested in overcoming the Ukrainian crisis to take into account in their proposals the key issue of the rights of Russians and other national minorities. Silencing it devalues peace initiatives.”
Lavrov said that the West’s “illegal sanctions, multiple protection measures (and) restrictions in access to leading technologies are contrary to true multilateralism, and create serious obstacles to achieving the (UN’s) 2030 agenda” for sustainable development.
He accused Washington of “jettisoning” developing countries, the attributes of a free market economy, fair competition, the inviolability of the practice of private property, the presumption of innocence, and the free movement of people, goods and capital.
“Geopolitics have buried the once-sacred laws of the market for the West,” Lavrov added.
He called for reform of the multilateral system, including changes to the structure of the Security Council, in which he said “there’s a clear overrepresentation of the countries of the collective West,” to eliminate geographic imbalances and enhance the representation of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Lavrov also advocated changes to the staffing policy of the UN Secretariat, the organization’s executive branch, “to eliminate the overrepresentation of nationals of the West.” The UN secretary-general’s “staff must adhere strictly to the principles of impartiality and neutrality,” he added.
The US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, responded by saying she thought she was “in the wrong room, because this seemed to be a session whining about the United States and the West and I hardly heard the word multilateralism mentioned.”
She accused Russia of eroding confidence in global institutions, and violating the core tenets of the UN Charter, including territorial integrity, respect for human rights, and international cooperation.
She criticized Moscow for hosting a meeting to discuss the ideals of the UN while “actively engaged in a war of aggression against its neighbor. A war that has weaponized food, worsening food insecurity not only for Ukrainians but for tens of millions of hungry people around the world.
“A war that has killed thousands of innocent people, including dozens just last week at a pediatric hospital in Kyiv. A war that has facilitated the unlawful transfer of thousands upon thousands of people from their homes, including children. And a war that has caused Moscow to resort to nuclear brinkmanship and to violate international sanctions obligations.”
Thomas-Greenfield conceded that the UN is not perfect, as it “reflects a deeply imperfect world, one filled with conflict and contradiction. We need an effective United Nations to tackle the kind of borderless challenges that affect us all.”
She said her country is committed to “modernizing and strengthening” the UN to better reflect the priorities of all member states, including developing countries. This commitment, she added, includes working with multilateral development banks to address the economic barriers to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the championing of efforts to reform the Security Council itself, to ensure it incorporates geographically diverse perspectives, including permanent representation of the Global South.
She pledged US commitment to international treaties and conventions, including international humanitarian law and World Trade Organization rules “not, as my Russian counterpart might argue, to keep other nations down but rather to help them build up to ensure that everyone plays
by the rules, and that the rules are fair to everyone, including the developing nations that have for far too long been used and abused by Russia.”


Amnesty, US criticize jailing of Eswatini pro-democracy MPs

Updated 16 July 2024
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Amnesty, US criticize jailing of Eswatini pro-democracy MPs

  • The Eswatini High Court sentenced Mabuza to 25 years in jail and Dube to 18 years

JOHANNESBURG: Amnesty International on Tuesday condemned jail sentences handed to two pro-democracy lawmakers in Eswatini as an attempt to suppress peaceful dissent and called for the men to be unconditionally released.
The US embassy in the small southern African kingdom also raised concerns about the sentences announced Monday, three years after Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested on charges of murder and “terrorism.”
The Eswatini High Court sentenced Mabuza to 25 years in jail and Dube to 18 years. Both had pleaded innocent to all charges ahead of their conviction in 2023.
They were arrested in July 2021 during pro-democracy protests that were violently quashed by police, leaving dozens dead.
“Eswatini authorities must immediately quash the unjust and baseless convictions and sentences of the former members of parliament,” said Amnesty deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, Vongai Chikwanda.
“Their convictions and sentences stem solely from the peaceful exercise of their human rights,” Chikwanda said in a statement, labelling the jailing a “blatant attempt to suppress peaceful dissent.”
The former MPs had advocated for pro-democracy reforms in the kingdom of around 1.2 million people, most of whom live in poverty. King Mswati III, in power since 1986, can veto any legislation, appoints the prime minister and cabinet, and is constitutionally above the law.
The US embassy also raised concerns about the sentences handed to the former MPs, saying in a statement: “There has been widespread reporting that their detentions are arbitrary, based on groundless charges of murder and terrorism.”
The pair “were targeted for bravery calling for political and human rights reform in the country,” it said, urging the government not to use courts to “suppress dissenting views.”
In its reaction, the government said the US statement was an “affront” and the embassy should “respect the due process of the law.”
“Casting aspersions on the independence of our judiciary after delivery of judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction is an affront to the rule of law,” spokesman Alpheous Nxumalo said in a statement.


Six foreign nationals found dead in Bangkok hotel, Thai PM orders probe

Updated 16 July 2024
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Six foreign nationals found dead in Bangkok hotel, Thai PM orders probe

  • Group — three men and three women — checked into different rooms but their bodies were found in one room, which did not show any signs of struggle
  • Thai PM Srettha Thavisin, who visited the hotel late on Tuesday with senior police officials, has ordered a swift investigation

BANGKOK: Thai police are investigating the deaths of six foreign nationals whose bodies were found in a room at an upmarket hotel in Bangkok on Tuesday, including looking for a seventh person in connection with the incident.
All six, who were of Vietnamese descent, with two carrying US passports, checked into Bangkok’s Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel at two separate times after arriving on Saturday and Sunday, police official Thiti Saengsawang told reporters.
The group — three men and three women — checked into different rooms but their bodies were found in one room, which did not show any signs of struggle, he said.
“This was not self harm, but someone caused the deaths,” said Thiti, adding that police were looking for a seventh person connected with the group.
“We are tracing every step since they got off the plane.”
Police officers found the bodies after a call from the hotel staff at around 5.30 p.m. (1030 GMT) reporting that there had been deaths, the Thai police said in a statement.
Thai prime minister Srettha Thavisin, who visited the hotel late on Tuesday with senior police officials, ordered a swift investigation on the matter, the government said in a statement.
“The prime minister has ordered all agencies to urgently take action to avoid impact on tourism,” it said.
The US and Vietnamese embassies in Bangkok did not respond to calls from Reuters.
The Grand Hyatt Erawan, which has over 350 rooms and is located in a popular tourist district in the Thai capital known for luxury shopping and restaurants, also did not immediately respond to calls or an email seeking comment.
Tourism serves as a key driver for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, with the government expecting 35 million foreign arrivals this year after 28 million visited the country in 2023, spending 1.2 trillion baht ($33.71 billion).
The tourism sector was shaken last October by a shooting spree at a luxury shopping mall, close to the Hyatt, in which two foreigners were killed, prompting government measures to improve confidence, including ramping up security at popular locations.
To woo more visitors, the government has offered longer visa stay periods and waivers for several nationalities.


King Salman Global Academy trains Indian scholars in Arabic teaching

Updated 16 July 2024
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King Salman Global Academy trains Indian scholars in Arabic teaching

  • Fifty lecturers take part in four-day course at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi
  • Training is part of Saudi-led language month to promote learning Arabic

NEW DELHI: A top Saudi linguistic institution, the King Salman Global Academy for Arabic Language, launched special training sessions for instructors teaching Arabic at Indian universities.

Some 50 lecturers are taking part in the four-day course held in New Delhi at Jawaharlal Nehru University, which is the main host of the KSGAAL’s ongoing Arabic Language Month.

The event is aimed at developing and improving the teaching of Arabic for non-native speakers in the world’s most populous nation, and kicked off online in late June, running until July 26.

It includes both online and offline competitions and sessions for students and lecturers.

“The teaching of the Arabic language has transformed significantly. There are a number of institutions which teach pedagogy of Arabic according to the latest trends,” Prof. Mujeebur Rahman, head of the Centre of Arabic and African Studies at JNU, told Arab News.

“There is lots of research in the Arab world, published materials also, which Arabic teachers in the (Indian) universities are not aware of and not equipped with ... So, the purpose of this training is to apprise the teachers of the latest pedagogy of Arabic teaching as a foreign language ... and also tell them about the technological tools that are available.”

Nine Saudi experts in different domains of language teaching were conducting the course under the supervision of Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Washmi, the academy’s secretary-general.

All aspects of teaching Arabic to non-native speakers are covered in the training to help teachers step up their skills.

“This would be beneficial to them when they go to classrooms and teach students. How to communicate and how to improve their own performance in the classroom, how to derive better outcomes from their teaching,” Rahman said.

Dr. Mohammad Eisha, Arabic translator and lector, said the training was helpful for keeping up with the newest teaching practices.

“There is a method to learn a foreign language and there is some technique ... training like this helps us,” he told Arab News.

“This is a good initiative by the King Salman Academy and it will boost career opportunities, and it will also stimulate learners to learn in a better way.”

Mohammad Ajmal, assistant professor at the Centre of Arabic and African Studies at the JNU, is also taking the training and said the course would help readers refine their skills.

“We are non-native speakers of the language. We will learn how to use technology in imparting language learning skills, and what can be the easy way of learning the language,” he said.

“I feel that the training will help me to be a better educator of the Arabic language.”


Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

Updated 16 July 2024
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Beijing, Manila establish hotline to prevent clashes in disputed South China Sea

  • The territorial disputes have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the US
  • There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards

MANILA: A recently signed agreement will open a direct line of communication between the presidential offices of China and the Philippines to help prevent any new confrontation from spiraling out of control in the disputed South China Sea, according to highlights of the accord seen by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
China and the Philippines have created such emergency telephone hotlines at lower levels in the past to better manage disputes, particularly in two fiercely disputed shoals where the Philippines has accused Chinese forces of increasingly hostile actions and China says Philippine ships have encroached despite repeated warnings.
The territorial disputes, however, have persisted since last year, sparking fears of a larger armed conflict that could involve the United States, which has repeatedly warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, a key Asian treaty ally, if Filipino forces come under attack in the disputed waters.
US Gen. Charles Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner in Manila on Tuesday and discussed ways to further boost defense ties, enhance the militaries’ ability to operate jointly and ensure regional ability, the Philippine military said.
During a confrontation between Chinese and Philippine forces at the Philippines-occupied Second Thomas Shoal in August 2023, the Philippine government said it was unable to reach Chinese officials through an established “maritime communication mechanism” for several hours. That emergency telephone hotline was arranged after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January 2023.
Chinese and Philippine officials dealing with the territorial disputes held talks in Manila on July 2, following a violent confrontation at the Second Thomas Shoal in which Chinese coast guard personnel reportedly wielded knives, an axe and improvised spears and Philippine navy personnel were injured. The Chinese forces also seized seven Philippine navy rifles, said Brawner, who demanded China return the firearms and pay for damages.
Both sides “recognized the need to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism on the South China Sea” and signed an arrangement “on improving Philippines-China maritime communication mechanisms,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement after the talks in Manila, but did not provide a copy or details of the agreement.
A copy of the agreement’s highlights, seen by the AP, said it “provides several channels for communication between the Philippines and China, specifically on maritime issues, through the representatives to be designated by their leaders.”
The hotline talks could also be done “through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs counterparts, including at the foreign minister and vice foreign minister levels or through their designated representatives,” it said, and added without elaborating that Philippine officials were “in discussions with the Chinese side on the guidelines that will govern the implementation of this arrangement.”
There was also a plan to set up a new communication channel between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards “once the corresponding memorandum of understanding” between them is concluded, according to the agreement.
During the talks in Manila, China and the Philippines agreed on two other confidence-boosting steps to intensify “cooperation between their respective coast guard authorities” and the possible convening of a maritime forum between Chinese and Philippine scientists and academic leaders.
“Both sides recognized that there is a need to restore trust, rebuild confidence and create conditions conducive to productive dialogue and interaction,” the Philippine department of foreign affairs statement said. It added that China and the Philippines “affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions.”
It said that “there was substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea,” but acknowledged that “significant differences remain.”