Putin vows war will continue as Russian troops mount in east

Putin said Tuesday that Moscow “had no other choice” and that the invasion aimed to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine and to “ensure Russia’s own security.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Putin vows war will continue as Russian troops mount in east

  • Russia invaded on Feb. 24 with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly regime
  • For now, Putin’s forces are gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbas, where Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014

KYIV: Russia vowed to continue its bloody offensive in Ukraine as the war neared its seventh week Wednesday, as President Vladimir Putin insisted the campaign was going as planned despite a major withdrawal and significant losses.
Thwarted in their push toward the capital, Kyiv, Russian troops focused on the eastern region of Donbas, where Ukraine said it was investigating a claim that a poisonous substance had been dropped on its troops. It was not clear what the substance might be, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious escalation of the already devastating war.
Russia invaded on Feb. 24 with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly regime. In the six weeks since, the ground advance stalled and Russian forces lost potentially thousands of fighters and were accused of killing civilians and other atrocities.
Putin said Tuesday that Moscow “had no other choice” and that the invasion aimed to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine and to “ensure Russia’s own security.” He vowed it would “continue until its full completion and the fulfillment of the tasks that have been set.”
Meanwhile Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was expected to receive the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — his staunch European allies.
“We are visiting Ukraine to show strong support for the Ukrainian people, will meet dear friend President Zelensky,” Estonian President Alar Karis tweeted.
For now, Putin’s forces are gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbas, where Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ claims of independence. Military strategists say Moscow believes local support, logistics and the terrain in the region favor its larger, better-armed military, potentially allowing Russia to finally turn the tide in its favor.
In Mariupol, a strategic port city in the Donbas, a Ukrainian regiment defending a steel mill alleged that a drone dropped a poisonous substance on the city. The assertion by the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified. The regiment indicated there were no serious injuries.
Zelensky said that while experts try to determine what the substance might be, “The world must react now.”
The claims came after a Russia-allied separatist official appeared to urge the use of chemical weapons, telling Russian state TV on Monday that separatist forces should seize the plant by first blocking all the exits. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out of there,” the official, Eduard Basurin, said. He denied Tuesday that separatist forces had used chemical weapons in Mariupol.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said officials were investigating, and it was possible phosphorus munitions — which cause horrendous burns but are not classed as chemical weapons — had been used in Mariupol, which has been pummeled by weeks of Russian assaults.
Western leaders warned that if chemical weapons are found to have been used, it would amount to a grievous breach of international law.
President Joe Biden for the first time referred to Russia’s invasion as a “genocide” and said “Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.”
The Pentagon said it could not confirm the drone report but reiterated US concerns about Russia using chemical agents. Britain, meanwhile, has warned that Russia may resort to phosphorus bombs, which are banned in civilian areas under international law, in Mariupol.
Most armies use phosphorus munitions to illuminate targets or to produce smoke screens. Deliberately firing them into an enclosed space to expose people to fumes could breach the Chemical Weapons Convention, said Marc-Michael Blum, a former laboratory head at the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“Once you start using the properties of white phosphorus, toxic properties, specifically and deliberately, then it becomes banned,” he said.
In Washington, a senior US defense official said the Biden administration was preparing another package of military aid for Ukraine to be announced in the coming days, possibly totaling $750 million. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plans not yet publicly announced. Delivery is due to be completed this week of $800 million in military assistance approved by Biden a month ago.
In the face of stiff resistance by Ukrainian forces bolstered by Western weapons, Russian forces have increasingly relied on bombarding cities, flattening many urban areas and killing thousands. The war has driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes — including nearly two-thirds of the country’s children.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said humanitarian corridors used to get people out of cities under Russian attack will not operate on Wednesday because of poor security.
She said that in the southeast Zaporizhzhia region, Russian troops blocked evacuation buses, and in the Luhansk region, they were violating the cease-fire. “The occupiers not only disregard the norms of international humanitarian law, but also cannot properly control their people on the ground. All this creates such a level of danger on the routes that we are forced to refrain from opening humanitarian corridors today.”
Moscow’s retreat from cities and towns around Kyiv led to the discovery of large numbers of apparently massacred civilians, prompting widespread condemnation and accusations of war crimes.
Zelensky said evidence of “inhuman cruelty” toward women and children in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv continued to surface, including alleged rapes.
“Not all serial rapists reach the cruelty of Russian soldiers,” Zelensky said.
More than 720 people were killed in Kyiv suburbs that had been occupied by Russian troops and over 200 were considered missing, the Interior Ministry said early Wednesday.
In Bucha alone, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said 403 bodies had been found and the toll could rise as minesweepers comb the area.
In the Chernihiv region, villagers said more than 300 people had been trapped for almost a month by the occupying Russian troops in the basement of a school and only allowed outside to go to the toilet or cook on open fires.
Valentyna Saroyan told The Associated Press she saw at least five people die in Yahidne, 140 kilometers (86 miles) north of Kyiv. In one of the rooms, the residents wrote the names of those who perished during the ordeal — the list counted 18 people.
Villagers say they don’t know the cause of the deaths. Russian soldiers allowed them to remove the bodies from time to time in order to bury them in a mass grave at the local cemetery.
Julia Surypak said the Russians only allowed some people to make a short trip home if they sang the Russian anthem. Another resident, Svitlana Baguta, said a Russian soldier made her drink from a flask pointing a gun at her face.
Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office said Tuesday it was also looking into events in the Brovary district, which lies to the northeast. It said the bodies of six civilians were found with gunshot wounds in a basement in the village of Shevchenkove and Russian forces were believed to be responsible.
Prosecutors are also investigating allegations that Russian forces fired on a convoy of civilians trying to leave by car from the village of Peremoha in the Brovary district, killing four people including a 13-year-old boy. In another attack near Bucha, five people were killed including two children when a car was fired upon, prosecutors said.
Putin falsely claimed Tuesday that Ukraine’s accusation that hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian troops in the town of Bucha were “fake.” Associated Press journalists saw dozens of bodies in and around the town, some of whom had their hands bound and appeared to have been shot at close range.


Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

Updated 06 October 2022

Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

  • Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in family's deaths and was in custody
  • The victims include an 8-month-old baby, her mother, father and uncle

BENGALURU: Four members of a California family, including an 8-month-old girl, were found dead in a rural area on Wednesday after they were abducted in the city of Merced on Monday, authorities said.

The victims were identified as the baby, Aroohi Dheri, who was abducted along with her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27, her father, Jasdeep Singh, 36, and the baby’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39. Police say the four were abducted on Monday morning from the family’s trucking company in Merced, about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Jose.

“Tonight our worst fears have been confirmed. We found the four people from the kidnapping and they are in fact deceased,” Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke said in a media briefing.

Describing the incident as “horribly senseless,” Warnke said that the motivation for the crime was not known yet, adding that they were alerted by a farm worker.

Authorities in Merced County said Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in the family’s deaths and was in custody. They were attempting to speak with Salgado, who was hospitalized after trying to kill himself before being taken into custody, to determine whether another person was involved, Warnke had said during a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“We are devastated. We are shocked. We are dying every moment,” a relative who gave only his first name, Balwinder, said during that news conference.

Warnke said they had notified the family about the deaths.

“We got information from the suspect. We are going to keep that close to our chest at this point, but that suspect has in fact been talking to us,” Warnke said.

Police had shown a surveillance video from outside the trucking company showing a man whose face was obscured by a medical-style mask leading away Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh, then Kaur and her daughter.

Police were alerted to the crime after finding Amandeep Singh’s black 2020 Dodge Ram pickup truck burning on the side of a county road. While investigating, sheriff’s deputies were unable to reach the family and determined they had been abducted, leading them to the trucking business.

Authorities took Salgado into custody after the family’s ATM card was used at a nearby bank. A motive has yet to be determined, the sheriff said.


Gunman in Thailand kills 34 people at day-care center

Updated 1 min 20 sec ago

Gunman in Thailand kills 34 people at day-care center

  • Gunman kills wife and child after the mass shooting before shooting himself

BANGKOK: A former policeman killed 34 people on Thursday in a mass shooting at a children’s day-care center in Thailand, with media reporting the gunman later shot and killed himself.

The victims included 22 children as well as adults, police said in a statement.

Police colonel Jakkapat Vijitraithaya from Nong Bua Lam Phu province said the gunman went home and killed his wife and child after the mass shooting.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Thursday ordered an urgent probe after a former police officer murdered more than 30 people, most of them children, in a rampage at a nursery.

“Concerning this horrifying incident... I would like to express my deepest sorrow and condolences to the families of the dead and injured,” Prayut wrote on his official Facebook page, adding that he had told the national police chief to “fast-track an investigation.”

Earlier, police said a manhunt was under way for the shooter, and a government spokesman said the prime minister had alerted all agencies to apprehend the culprit.

Mass shootings are rare in Thailand even though the rate of gun ownership is high compared with some other countries in the region, and illegal weapons are common.

In 2020, a soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations.


Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

Updated 06 October 2022

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

  • Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it

KYIV: At least two people died and five others were missing in attacks on Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the region’s governor said Thursday, blaming Russia for the strikes.
The Ukrainian-controlled city is located in the eponymous Zaporizhzhia region, also home to the Russian-occupied nuclear plant that has been the site of heavy shelling.
Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it.
“One woman died and another person died in an ambulance,” Ukrainian-appointed governor Oleksandr Starukh said on social media.
He added that at least five people were trapped under the rubble following the attacks.
“Many people” were saved in a rescue operation that was still underway, he said.
Earlier, Starukh posted a photo of a collapsed building with smoke still rising from the wreckage.
He said there were seven attacks fired by Russian forces at “high-rise buildings.”
Last week Ukraine said at least 30 people were killed after a convoy of civilian cars in the Zaporizhzhia region was shelled in an attack Kyiv blamed on Moscow.
Putin on Wednesday finalized the annexation of four Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — but the Kremlin is yet to confirm what areas of those regions are being annexed.
Ukraine’s presidency said Thursday that over the past day 14 people were killed in attacks in the Donetsk region.


UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

Updated 06 October 2022

UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

  • Up to 97% Afghan population now lives below the poverty line, UNDP official says
  • Before Taliban takeover, Afghan economy was already very small, with $20 billion GDP

United Nations: Afghanistan’s formal economy has suffered a “catastrophic collapse” since the Taliban came to power, wiping out in less than a year what had taken 10 years to build, the United Nations said in a report released Wednesday.

Before the Taliban took power in August 2021, the Afghan economy was already very small, with a GDP of about $20 billion.

But in just one year it “lost about $5 billion,” Kanni Wignaraja, director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Asia and the Pacific, told a news conference.

“That’s about 10 years’ worth of accumulated assets and wealth that just got lost in 10 months,” Wignaraja said. “That kind of dramatic collapse we’ve not seen anywhere in the world.”

While the price of a basic food basket has increased by 35 percent since August 2021, Afghans spend “60 to 70 percent, some of them even 80 percent, of their income, household income, on food and fuel,” she said.

Meanwhile, 95 to 97 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, she said.

That figure is up from a little more than 70 percent just a year ago.

The report paints a bleak picture of the country’s economy, highlighting a collapse of the banking and financial systems, with 700,000 jobs lost by mid-2022, mostly by women, and one in five children at risk of severe malnutrition, particularly in the south.

The collapse of the formal economy has also led to an increase in the importance of the informal economy, which represents 12 to 18 percent of gross domestic product, compared to nine to 14 percent a year ago, the report said.

Abdallah Al Dardari, the UNDP’s resident representative in Afghanistan, said humanitarian assistance alone cannot compensate for the economic collapse, adding that the number of Afghans needing assistance has climbed from 19 million people to 22 million people in just 14 months.

So over the next three years, “we want to create two million jobs through a revival of the private sector, through working with local communities, through focusing on women entrepreneurs,” and by reviving agricultural productivity, micro-finance and banking, he said.


China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

Updated 06 October 2022

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

  • Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended
  • The humanitarian costs to China’s COVID-19 pandemic approach have grown

BEIJING: Sprawling Xinjiang is the latest Chinese region to be hit with sweeping COVID-19 travel restrictions, as China further ratchets up control measures ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month.
Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended, and passenger numbers on flights have been reduced to 75 percent capacity, reports said Thursday.
A notice from the regional government said the measures were enacted to “strictly prevent the risk of spillover” of the virus but gave no other details.
As is often the case with China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy, the measures seemed out of proportion to the number of cases detected.
The National Health Commission announced just 93 cases in Xinjiang on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday, all of them asymptomatic. Xinjiang leaders on Tuesday conceded problems with detection and control measures but offered no word on when they planned to lift the restrictions.
Officials are desperate not to be called out for new outbreaks in their regions and Xinjiang has been under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion and allegedly subjected to a range of human rights abuses.
Xinjiang’s vast surveillance system, relying on ubiquitous checkpoints, facial and even voice recognition software, and universal cell phone monitoring has made controlling travel among the population especially easy.
An earlier 40-day lockdown in Xinjiang left many residents complaining on inadequate food supplies.
“Zero-COVID” has been closely identified with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is expected to receive a third five-year term in office at the congress beginning Oct. 16. That’s despite criticisms from the World Health Organization and massive disruptions to the economy, education and normal life in China.
Last month, a nighttime bus crash that killed 27 people who were being forcefully moved to a mass quarantine location in southwestern China set off a storm of anger online over the harshness of the policy. Survivors said they had been compelled to leave their apartments even when not a single case had been discovered.
“Zero-COVID” has been celebrated by the country’s leaders as evidence of the superiority of their system over the US, which has had more than a million COVID-19 deaths.
Xi has cited China’s approach as a “major strategic success” and evidence of the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.
Yet even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs to China’s pandemic approach have grown. With national and some provincial borders closed, tourism has all but dried up and the economy is forecast by the World Bank to grow by an anemic 2.8 percent this year. Xinjiang has been hit especially hard because of sanctions brought against some of its officials and products over human rights concerns.
Even without nationally identified criteria, testing and lockdowns have become the norm for tens of millions of people in China from the North Korean border to the South China Sea, as local officials desperately seek to avoid punishment and criticism.
Earlier this year in Shanghai, desperate residents complained of being unable to get medicines or even groceries during a two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. All 26 million city residents in China’s largest city and financial hub have been ordered to undergo two additional days of testing this week, despite the announcement of just 11 new cases Thursday, none of which showed symptoms.