Stop relying on Russia, Ukraine warns Europe after gas shutoff

Gazprom suspended gas supplies “due to absence of payments in roubles”. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 April 2022

Stop relying on Russia, Ukraine warns Europe after gas shutoff

  • EU denounces gas cut-off as 'blackmail'
  • Russia demands payment in roubles to shield it from sanctions

WARSAW/SOFIA/KYIV: Europe should stop depending on Russia for trade after Moscow halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for not paying in roubles, Ukraine said, as the shutoff exposed the continent’s weaknesses and divisions on Wednesday.
The decision, denounced by European leaders as “blackmail,” comes as Russia’s own economy wilts under sanctions and Western countries are sending more arms to Kyiv despite warnings from the Kremlin to back off.
Gazprom, Russia’s gas export monopoly, suspended gas supplies “due to absence of payments in roubles,” as stipulated in a decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin that aims to soften the impact of sanctions.
“The sooner everyone in Europe recognizes that they cannot depend on Russia for trade, the sooner it will be possible to guarantee stability in European markets,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Wednesday.
While the president of the European Commission said Gazprom’s move was “yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” EU member state ambassadors asked the executive for clearer guidance on whether sending euros breached sanctions.
France will host a meeting of EU energy ministers on May 2 to discuss how to deal with Russia’s move.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia remained a reliable energy supplier and denied it was engaging in blackmail.
He declined to say how many countries had agreed to switch to paying for gas in roubles but other European customers said gas supplies were flowing normally.
On the battlefield, Ukraine reported that Russian troops had made gains in the east.
Russia reported a number of blasts on its side of the border, and a blaze at an arms depot. Kyiv called the explosions “karma.”
Ukraine said Russian forces had used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a pro-Ukraine rally in Kherson, the first big city it has seized. A series of powerful explosions caused by rockets hit the center of Kherson late on Wednesday, Ria News agency reported.
The invasion of Ukraine has reduced towns and cities to rubble, and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad in a conflict that has prompted fears of wider conflict in the West, unthought of for decades.
Moscow calls it a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call the war an unprovoked act of aggression.
With so many EU members reliant on Russian energy, the European Commission has said the EU’s gas buyers can engage with Russia’s payment scheme provided certain conditions are met.
Germany’s main importer, Uniper, said it could pay without violations. Austria and Hungary, among others, have also indicated they will take this route.
Bulgaria and Poland, former Soviet-era satellites that have since joined the EU and NATO, are the only two European countries with Gazprom contracts due to expire at the end of 2022, which meant their search for alternatives was under way.
Warsaw has been one of the Kremlin’s most vocal opponents over the war.
Bulgaria has long had warmer relations with Russia, but Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, who took office last year, has denounced the invasion. He was due in Kyiv on Wednesday to meet Zelensky.
The cut-off comes as the weather turns warmer and the need for gas heating dwindles. Poland says it has ample gas in storage, and Bulgaria is seeking supplies from Greece and Turkey.
But if the cut-off lasts for many months or spreads to other countries, it could cause havoc.
Germany, the biggest buyer of Russian energy, hopes to stop importing Russian oil within days, but weaning itself off Russian gas is a far bigger challenge.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck said a Russian energy embargo or blockade would tip Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into recession.
A Russian economy ministry document indicated that Russia’s economy could shrink by as much as 12.4 percent this year.
Since the Russian invasion force was driven back at the outskirts of Kyiv last month, Moscow has refocused its operation on eastern Ukraine, starting a new offensive to fully capture two provinces known as the Donbas.
Blasts were heard early on Wednesday in three Russian provinces bordering Ukraine, authorities said, and an ammunition depot in the Belgorod province caught fire.
Kyiv has not confirmed responsibility for these and other earlier incidents, but has described them as payback. “Karma is a cruel thing,” presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak wrote on social media.
An aide to the mayor of the ruined port city of Mariupol said Russian forces had renewed their attacks on the Azovstal steel plant, where fighters and some civilians remain holed up.
Concern has increased over the prospect of the conflict widening to neighboring Moldova, where pro-Russian separatists have blamed Ukraine for reported attacks this week in their region, occupied since the 1990s by Russian troops.
Authorities in Transdniestria said there had been firing across the border from Ukraine on Wednesday.
Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to mastermind ‘false flag’ attacks in the region, and Moldova’s pro-Western government accuses the separatists of trying to stir conflict.


Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

  • New centers will be in Jouf, Hail, Al-Hudud Ash Shamaliyah and Al-Baha

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is set to establish four new regional associations to help promote the sport across the Kingdom.

The federation told Arab News on Wednesday that is has 15 official associations representing the sport in nine regions, but aims to establish new associations in the remaining four regions “to make sure that we have future cricket activities all around the Kingdom.”

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, with the national teams taking on world’s best.

In recent years, the SACF has introduced several competitions and programs to encourage the country’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

In October 2021, it signed an agreement with sports management company JSW Sports to develop cricket in Saudi Arabia, focusing on high-performance academies.

The SACF was established in 2020 and lined up a series of major initiatives the following year, including a national cricket championship, a corporate cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social program in several cities.

The initiatives are part of a mission to promote healthy and active lifestyles under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life scheme, with the SACF — supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

In November, the SACF partnered with Saudi’s Sports For All Federation to launch the Kingdom’s first cricket talent-spotting program.

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PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

Updated 4 min 48 sec ago

PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

  • Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow
  • Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, seen as status symbol

ISLAMABAD: The global animal rights group PETA said on Wednesday it welcomed a decision by the Lahore Safari Zoo to call off plans to auction 12 lions from its ever-growing pride to private buyers, saying it would instead create new enclosures for the big cats.

The auction planned for Thursday had drawn condemnation from the WWF, which urged authorities to instead rehome them with other government wildlife facilities.

“PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel its auction of big cats – who would have been sold off like mere objects, likely destined to exist as living trophies in someone’s house – and to build a larger enclosure instead,” Elisa Allen, Vice President of UK Programmes and Operations, PETA Foundation UK, said.

“However, as long as this zoo continues to breed wild animals into captivity, it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s again faced with the prospect of having too many animals and not enough space.”

PETA called on the zoo to end its captive-breeding program immediately and focus on protecting animals in their natural habitat “because all the cages in the world certainly won’t save animals from extinction.”

“The main reason behind the auction was the lack of space,” deputy director Tanvir Ahmed Janjua told AFP, adding officials had decided to speed up work building two new enclosures. “Now that this issue is to be resolved soon, there is no need for the auction to take place.”

Set over 200 acres, Lahore Safari Zoo is considered one of the best in the country, where zoos are known for disregarding animal welfare.

The Lahore facility is currently home to 29 lions, six resident tigers and two jaguars.

Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow, but hoped each would fetch around two million rupees at auction.

Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, and is seen as a status symbol.

Wealthy owners post images and video clips of their big cats on social media, and rent them out as props for movies and photoshoots.

Janjua denied opposition from animal rights activists had led to the decision to cancel the auction.

“Should the lions breed more, and we see we are running out of space once again, then we can easily hold another auction,” he told media.


Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

Updated 38 min 27 sec ago

Kerning Cultures’ new podcast tells ‘forgotten tales’ from around the region

  • Arabic-language show ‘Masafat’ aims to bridge ‘gap in media coverage,’ host says

DUBAI: Kerning Cultures Network has released a new show “Masafat” that aims to tell overlooked and forgotten stories spanning the Middle East region — from Jerusalem and Palestine to Egypt and Morocco.

Inspired by the network’s first English show “Kerning Cultures,” “Masafat” was launched because “we believe it’s important to have the same narrative style podcast in Arabic, telling stories in our native language — especially stories that are often overlooked or even forgotten,” Heba Afify, managing editor for Arabic content, told Arab News.

The show’s 13 episodes explore various topics, such as women in mahraganat (a popular form of street music in Egypt), Al-Quds Radio and how it contributed to the cultural and art scene in Palestine, block painting in Syria and reclaiming public spaces in Lebanon.

Afify, who also hosts the show, said: “There’s a gap in the media coverage when it comes to representation of what life looks like in our region, away from the politics and the sensational takes that often constitute the majority of media attention the region receives.”

She said the company was keen on “producing every episode with the perspective and knowledge of a local producer who knows the place and topic inside and out. So besides our diverse team, we collaborated with freelance producers from the countries that we cover in each episode.”

Although podcasts are a relatively new medium, they have grown in popularity with 67 percent of listeners in Saudi Arabia tuning in at least once a week, according to a 2021 report by Rising Giants Network.

“‘Masafat’ is built on the understanding that podcasts as a medium offer a safe space for stories that often don’t get featured or picked up by mainstream media,” said the network’s marketing director, Bella Ibrahim.

“Podcasts especially resonate with younger listeners that don’t feel seen or represented in mainstream media,” she added, with more than half of podcast listeners aged under 22, according to Mohtwize’s latest report.

The goal of “Masafat” is not only to tell overlooked stories but also to shine a light on the true nature of the region by exploring the “lost pieces of our history, the complex realities behind flashy headlines, inspirational journeys and the multifaceted unique realities of living in each corner of this region,” Afify said.

“Such nuanced coverage of our region grounded in deep knowledge and experience and an authentic and sympathetic approach is very much lacking and is crucial in correcting misrepresentation and giving our stories a place to be told.”


Boxing federation confirms two Pakistani boxers missing after Commonwealth Games in UK

Updated 3 min 17 sec ago

Boxing federation confirms two Pakistani boxers missing after Commonwealth Games in UK

  • Pakistan Olympic Association forms four-member committee to investigate how Suleman Baloch and Nazeerullah Khan disappeared
  • Travel documents of both boxers with Pakistani officials, British government and police informed about the disappearance

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) on Wednesday confirmed the disappearance of two national boxers in Birmingham, just days after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games, local media reported. 

Geo News reported that the Pakistan Olympic Association has formed a four-member committee to investigate how Suleman Baloch and Nazeerullah Khan had disappeared after the Games. 

Secretary PBF Nasir Tang told Pakistan’s Dawn.com Baloch and Khan went missing a few hours before the team’s departure for Islamabad.

The travel documents of both boxers are with the PBF officials, he said, adding that the British government and police had been informed about the disappearance.

“We have seized the documents of the duo under the standard operating procedure,” Tang said, and he hoped the athletes would be found soon.

This was a good year for Pakistan at the Commonwealth Games as javelin athlete Arshad Nadeem won a gold medal and became the first Pakistan to achieve the feat.

Nadeem snatched the title in a fifth-round throw of 90.18 meters, breaking a new record at the Games where he now holds the title of the biggest throw recorded by a South Asian athlete.

Pakistan won a total of eight medals at this year’s Games.


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.