Ukraine’s foreign minister to Bulgaria: ‘It’s time to make a choice’

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is welcomed by his Bulgarian counterpart Teodora Genchovska in Sofia, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 April 2022

Ukraine’s foreign minister to Bulgaria: ‘It’s time to make a choice’

  • Bulgaria has condemned the invasion, voted to support European Union sanctions against Russia and is hosting more than 90,000 Ukrainian refugees
  • "The best way to bring peace closer today is to stand by Ukraine, not to stand neutral," Kuleba said in the Bulgarian parliament

SOFIA: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba appealed to NATO and EU member Bulgaria on Thursday to provide sorely needed military aid to help his country survive Russia’s invasion.
Bulgaria has condemned the invasion, voted to support European Union sanctions against Russia and is hosting more than 90,000 Ukrainian refugees, but the four-party ruling coalition remains split over whether to send arms and ammunition to Kyiv.
Kuleba, who arrived in the Black Sea country on Tuesday, said he has still not received a clear answer from Sofia on military aid.
“The best way to bring peace closer today is to stand by Ukraine, not to stand neutral,” Kuleba said in the Bulgarian parliament at the opening of a photo exhibition depicting the war in Ukraine.
“Sometimes you have to make a choice, you cannot be in between, you cannot come up with endless arguments. You have to take a side and you have to take the side of truth. So all I can say is it is time to make a choice,” he said.
Among the coalition parties, Democratic Bulgaria backs sending arms and ammunition and the Russia-friendly Socialists are opposed. Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s centrist PP party has proposed a compromise of sending “technical assistance for defense purposes” to Ukraine.
A fourth coalition party, the populist ITN, has not taken a clear position on the issue.
Kuleba dismissed the PP’s compromise proposal.
“If you have a helmet and a bulletproof vest, but you do not have a gun in your hands, you are doomed. So this half-measure is nice politically, but basically the message is: ‘We want you to die protected’,” he said.
Thousands of people have died, cities and towns have been heavily bombarded and some 11 million people — about a quarter of Ukraine’s population — displaced in the war since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.
Bulgaria’s parliament is expected to debate next week, after the Orthodox Easter weekend, how to support Ukraine further.
Bulgaria was Moscow’s closest ally in Eastern Europe in Communist times. It has retained important cultural, tourism and trade links and is still heavily reliant on Russian gas and oil.


China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

Updated 01 July 2022

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

  • While saying it has not provided military assistance to Russia, China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies

WASHINGTON: The United States has not seen China evade sanctions or provide military equipment to Russia, a senior US official said on Thursday, adding that enforcement measures taken earlier in the week targeted certain Chinese companies, not the government.
The Commerce Department added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base as Moscow carries out its war in Ukraine.
US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China offer material support for Russia’s war effort, but have consistently said they have yet to detect overt Chinese military and economic backing of Moscow.
“China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the Commerce blacklist.
“We have not seen the PRC (People’s Republic of China) engage in systematic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions and has criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow. Beijing also says that it has not provided military assistance to Russia or Ukraine, but that it would take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies.
The Commerce Department action means US suppliers need a license before they can ship items to listed companies. But the department also targeted dozens of other entities, including some in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lithuania. 

 

 


Russian missile strike kills 10 in Odesa, says Ukrainian official

Updated 01 July 2022

Russian missile strike kills 10 in Odesa, says Ukrainian official

  • Another missile hit a resort facility, wounding several people, says spokesman for the Odesa regional administration

A Russian missile struck a nine-story apartment building in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa early on Friday, killing at least 10 people, a local official said.
“The number of dead as a result of a strike on a multi-story apartment building has now risen to 10,” Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odesa regional administration said on his Telegram channel.
Bratchuk also told Ukrainian state television that seven people have been wounded, including three children.
A rescue operation was under way, he said, as some people remained buried under the rubble after a section of the building collapsed.
Another missile hit a resort facility, Bratchuk said, wounding several people.
Earlier reports said six people had died in the night-time incident, including three children. Reuters could not independently confirm details of the incident.


New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

Updated 01 July 2022

New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

  • The Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s government has declared that American far-right groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations.
The two groups join 18 others including the Daesh group that have been given an official terrorist designation, making it illegal in New Zealand to fund, recruit or participate in the groups, and obligating authorities to take action against them.
The US groups are not known to be active in New Zealand, although the South Pacific nation has become more attuned to threats from the far right after a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.
The New Zealand massacre inspired other white supremacists around the world, including a white gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May.
In the US, the State Department only lists foreign groups as terrorist entities. But the Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia.
In a 29-page explanation of the Proud Boys designation published Thursday, New Zealand authorities said the group’s involvement in the violent attack on the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 amounted to an act of terrorism.

Proud Boys gather in front of the Oregon state capitol on Jan. 8, 2022 during a protest in support of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. (Getty Images via AFP)

The statement said that while several militia groups were involved, it was the Proud Boys who incited crowds, coordinated attacks on law enforcement officers and led other rioters to where they could break into the building.
The statement said there are unlinked but ideologically affiliated chapters of the Proud Boys operating in Canada and Australia.
New Zealand authorities argued that before the Capitol attack, the Proud Boys had a history of using street rallies and social media to intimidate opponents and recruit young men through demonstrations of violence. It said the group had put up various smoke screens to hide its extremism.
Earlier this month, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, and four others linked to the group were charged in the US with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the Capitol.
The indictment alleges that the Proud Boys conspired to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. The five are scheduled to stand trial in August in Washington, D.C.’s federal court.
Asked by media Thursday in New Zealand if the Proud Boys weren’t better known for protest actions rather than extreme violence, New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins said: “Well, violent protests attempting to overthrow the government, clearly there is evidence of that.”
In making its case against The Base, New Zealand authorities said a key goal of the group was to “train a cadre of extremists capable of accelerationist violence.”
The statement said founder Rinaldo Nazzaro “has repetitively counselled members online about violence, the acquisition of weapons, and actions to accelerate the collapse of the US government and survive the consequent period of chaos and violence.”


US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

Updated 30 June 2022

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

  • Supreme Court overturns decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states sued to maintain the program

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Thursday gave a major boost to President Joe Biden’s drive to end a hard-line immigration policy begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to stay in Mexico to await US hearings on their asylum claims.
The justices, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, overturned a lower court’s decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri sued to maintain the program.
The ruling bolsters Biden as he pursues what he calls a more “humane” approach at the southern border even as Republicans blame him for what they portray as an immigration crisis.
The justices concluded that the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals erred in finding that federal immigration law required sending migrants back to Mexico so long as there was not enough space to detain them in the United States.
“The problem is that the statute does not say anything like that,” Roberts wrote, adding that the 5th Circuit’s decision also mistakenly imposed a “significant burden” upon the US government’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico.
Trump’s administration adopted the policy, formally called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” in 2018 in response to an increase in migration along the US-Mexican border, changing longstanding US practice. It prevented certain non-Mexican migrants, including asylum seekers fearing persecution in their home countries, from being released into the United States to await immigration proceedings, instead returning them to Mexico.
Biden’s fellow Democrats and immigration advocates have criticized Trump’s policy, saying migrants stuck in Mexican border cities have faced kidnappings and other hazards.
Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices in the ruling. In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito — joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — said Congress never meant for the government to release immigrants and simply hope they “will show up for the hearing.”
The ruling also faulted the 5th Circuit for voiding the administration’s June 2021 decision to end Trump’s program. The 5th Circuit found that Biden’s administration had failed to properly explain its rescinding of Trump’s policy in violation of federal administrative law. But the Supreme Court found that the June 2021 decision was superseded by a new, more detailed one issued by the administration four months later.
Biden suspended the “remain in Mexico” policy in January 2021 shortly after taking office and acted to rescind it five months later. Roughly 68,000 people fell under the policy from the time it took effect in 2019 until Biden suspended it.
At issue in the case was the meaning of a provision of a 1996 US immigration law that stated that US officials “may return” certain immigrants to Mexican territory pending immigration proceedings. Texas and Missouri have said this provision must be used because the United States lacks detention space for migrants. Biden’s administration said the provision was clearly discretionary.
For migrants not posing a security risk, immigration law separately allows their release into the United States for humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit” pending a hearing, a practice officials have followed for decades.
Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion, said that every president since the late 1990s has allowed immigrants into the United States to await their proceedings.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the ruling, saying it “will only embolden the Biden administration’s open border policies.”
Immigrant rights groups called the ruling a victory.
“The US for generations has been a refuge for those fleeing danger and persecution,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, urging Biden’s administration to “move swiftly to permanently end every facet of the human rights disaster that is ‘remain in Mexico.’“
The number of migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border has reached record highs recently. Republicans contend that the “remain in Mexico” policy effectively deterred unlawful migration.
After a judge ruled in favor of Texas and Missouri, reinstating the program, the Supreme Court last August refused the Biden administration’s request to block that decision while it appealed. The 5th Circuit ruled in December that because the government lacks the capacity to detain all migrants eligible for admission pending a hearing, it must maintain “remain in Mexico.”
Thursday’s decision came on the final day of rulings for the court’s current nine-month term.


Huge Hindu pilgrimage begins in Indian-administered Kashmir

Updated 30 June 2022

Huge Hindu pilgrimage begins in Indian-administered Kashmir

  • Critics accuse India of using Amarnath procession to reinforce its claim over disputed region
  • Million people expected to partake in pilgrimage suspended for two years due to coronavirus

PAHALGAM, India: Thousands of chanting devotees from across India began trekking up through Himalayan passes in Indian-administered Kashmir Thursday at the start of a huge pilgrimage, accompanied by a major security operation. 

Critics accuse the Hindu nationalist government of using the annual Amarnath procession to reinforce New Delhi's claims over the disputed Muslim-majority region. 

Authorities expect around a million people to take part in a pilgrimage to the cave shrine at 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) containing a holy stalagmite over the coming 43 days. 

The procession, which sees pilgrims trek uphill for several days or be transported by donkey or helicopter did not take place for two years because of the pandemic. 

On Thursday devotees chanted religious hymns as tens of thousands of Indian soldiers guarded the twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal leading to the shrine to the Hindu god Shiva. 

Over 400 sandbag bunkers manned by armed soldiers dot the Himalayan landscape surrounding the shrine and along the routes to two base camps. 

Authorities restricted locals from visiting the two tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Sonmarg that serve as base camps during the pilgrimage. 

All traffic was being halted on the main highway to the start while convoys guarded by armed soldiers passed through, with all connecting roads blocked with coils of razor wire. 

Dilip Sharma, from the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, said he was ecstatic to be able to undertake the pilgrimage again after three years. 

"You can't imagine how happy I am at being able to pay my obeisance to the lord again. I want to thank the government of India for very good arrangements," Sharma told an AFP photographer along the trek to the shrine. 

The event used to be low-key, with a few thousand pilgrims attending, until an armed insurgency against the Indian rule of Kashmir erupted in 1989. 

Since then the religious practice -- and accompanying security mobilisation -- have grown, as has its political significance. 

The territory is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. 

Rebels have often said that the pilgrimage is not a target but have warned in the past that if the religious event was used to establish Hindu domination of the territory they would act. 

In 2017 suspected rebels attacked a bus, killing 11 pilgrims. 

On Thursday some of the pilgrims chanted a slogan equating Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a deity, an AFP videographer said. 

As an additional security measure this year, authorities assigned all pilgrims a unique radio identification tag to closely monitor their movement.