UK PM Johnson has not intervened in ‘partygate’ report, education minister says

Johnson has faced widespread calls from opposition politicians and some in his own party for him to resign over the “partygate” scandal. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 22 May 2022

UK PM Johnson has not intervened in ‘partygate’ report, education minister says

  • The Labour Party has called on Johnson to explain why he met senior civil servant Sue Gray to discuss her final report into parties held at Downing Street

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not intervened in an internal investigation into breaches of COVID-19 rules at his Downing Street office and residence, education minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.
Britain’s opposition Labour Party has called on Johnson to explain why he met senior civil servant Sue Gray to discuss publication of her final report into parties held at Johnson’s Downing Street office during COVID-19 lockdowns, which is expected next week.
“The Prime Minister has never intervened in the investigation that Sue Gray conducted,” Zahawi told Sky News, adding that he could not say who had called the meeting.
Johnson has faced widespread calls from opposition politicians and some in his own party for him to resign over the “partygate” scandal after it emerged that he and officials had broken stringent lockdown laws enacted by his government.


Ukraine withdraws from battered Lysychansk city; Russia claims major victory

Updated 12 sec ago

Ukraine withdraws from battered Lysychansk city; Russia claims major victory

  • City was last Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk region
  • Zelensky vows to regain control with long-range weapons

KYIV: Ukraine’s forces have withdrawn from the bombed-out city of Lysychansk, prompting Russia to claim full control of the eastern Luhansk region, a key Kremlin war goal, but President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to regain the lost territory.
Ukraine on Sunday said the tactical withdrawal would save the lives of its soldiers who would regroup, to launch a counter offensive with the help of long-range Western weapons.
But Moscow said the capture of Lysychansk less than a week after taking neighboring Sievierdonetsk meant it had “liberated” Luhansk. It said it will give Luhansk to the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic whose independence it recognized on the eve of the war.
The battlefield focus now shifts to the neighboring Donetsk region, where Kyiv still controls swathes of territory.
“If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in firepower, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing,” Zelensky said in his nightly video on Sunday.
“That we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons.”
Zelensky said Russia was concentrating its firepower on the Donbas front, but Ukraine would hit back with long-range weapons such as the US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers.
“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else,” Zelensky said.

Since abandoning an assault on the capital Kyiv, Russia has concentrated its military operation on the industrial Donbas heartland that comprises the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Moscow-backed separatist proxies have been fighting Ukraine since 2014.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that Luhansk had been “liberated,” the defense ministry said, after Russia earlier said its forces had captured villages around Lysychansk and encircled the city.
Ukraine’s military command said its forces had been forced to retreat from the city.
“The continuation of the defense of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw,” it said in a statement on social media.
Ukrainian officials, who say references to “liberating” Ukrainian territory are Russian propaganda, had reported intense artillery barrages on residential areas.
West of Lysychansk in Donetsk region, at least six people were killed when the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk was hit by powerful shelling from multiple rocket launchers on Sunday, local officials said.

Costly campaign
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow denies this.
Russia says what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine aims to protect Russian speakers from nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say this is a baseless pretext for flagrant aggression that aims to seize territory.
While Russia would try to frame its advance in Luhansk as a significant moment in the war, it came at a high cost to Russia’s military, said Neil Melvin of the London-based think tank RUSI.
“Ukraine’s position was never that they could defend all of this. What they’ve been trying to do is to slow down the Russian assault and cause maximum damage, while they build up for a counteroffensive,” he said.

Kharkhiv strikes
Zelensky said Russia had “brutally” struck Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk with rocket attacks, leaving six dead and 20 wounded in Sloviansk alone.
Russia’s defense ministry also said on Sunday it had struck the military infrastructure of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, where a Reuters reporter said Ukrainian forces had been building fortifications after nightly shelling.
Outside a school in Kharkiv, some residents threw debris into a large crater created by an early morning rocket strike while others got help repairing damaged houses.
“The wife was lucky that she woke up early in the morning because the roof fell exactly where she had been sleeping,” one resident, Oleksii Mihulin, told Reuters.
About 70 km (44 miles) from Kharkiv on the Russian side of the border, Russia also reported explosions on Sunday in Belgorod, which it said killed at least three people and destroyed homes.
“The sound was so strong that I jumped up, I woke up, got very scared and started screaming,” a Belgorod resident told Reuters, adding the blasts occurred around 3 a.m. (0000 GMT).
Moscow has accused Kyiv of numerous attacks on Belgorod and other areas bordering Ukraine. Kyiv has never claimed responsibility for any of these incidents.

Military base hit
Ukraine said its air force had flown some 15 sorties “in virtually all directions of hostilities,” destroying equipment and two ammunition depots.
In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military logistics base with more than 30 strikes on Sunday, the city’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said. A Russian-installed official confirmed that strikes had hit the city.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Ukraine has repeatedly appealed for an acceleration in weapons supplies from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned. 


West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

Updated 42 min 42 sec ago

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

  • ECOWAS had imposed sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso after their rulers plunged them into authoritian rule

ACCRA, Ghana: West African leaders attending a regional summit Sunday lifted sanctions against three neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule.
The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, although those countries remain suspended from the regional bloc, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.
The three nations’ suspension from ECOWAS will remain in effect until elections are held, he told reporters, adding that regional leaders urge development partners to resume assistance to them.
In lifting the sanctions, leaders attending the summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, accepted a transition road map by Malian authorities who proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024.
ECOWAS sanctioned Mali severely in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.
The military leaders in Guinea and Burkina Faso have also proposed varying transition periods eventually leading to polls. It remains unclear when elections will be held there.
The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.
Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January coup. Burkina Faso authorities said Saturday that Kabore, who has been under house arrest, is now a free man.
The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.
Some leaders who spoke at Accra’s one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.
“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”
In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Brou.
In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country’s northern Seno province last month.


Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

Updated 04 July 2022

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

  • Police claimed the victim had earlier fired at them when they were chasing him over a traffic violation
  • Akron mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community

AKRON, Ohio: A Black man was unarmed when Akron police chased him on foot and killed him in a hail of gunfire, but officers believed he had shot at them earlier from a vehicle and feared he was preparing to fire again, authorities said Sunday at a news conference.
Akron police released video of the shooting of Jayland Walker, 25, who was killed June 27 in a pursuit that had started with an attempted traffic stop. The mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community.
It’s not clear how many shots were fired by the eight officers involved in the shooting, but Walker sustained more than 60 wounds. An attorney for Walker’s family said officers kept firing even after he was on the ground.
Officers attempted to stop Walker’s car early in the morning for unspecified traffic and equipment violations, but less than a minute into a pursuit, the sound of a shot was heard from the car, and a transportation department camera captured what appeared to be a muzzle flash coming from the vehicle, Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett said. That changed the nature of the case from “a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue,” he said.
Police body camera videos of the nighttime confrontation show the minutes that followed. Several shouting officers with guns drawn approach the slowing car on foot, as it rolls up over a curb and onto a sidewalk. A person wearing a ski mask exits the passenger door and runs toward a parking lot. Police chase him for about 10 seconds before officers fire from multiple directions, in a burst of shots that lasts 6 or 7 seconds.
At least one officer had tried first to use a stun gun, but that was unsuccessful, police said.
Mylett said Walker’s actions are hard to distinguish on the video in real time, but a still photo seems to show him “going down to his waist area” and another appears to show him turning toward an officer. He said a third picture “captures a forward motion of his arm.”
The officers were separated at the scene afterward, and each one indicated a belief that Walker had been moving into a firing position, Mylett said.
The footage released by police ends with the officers’ gunfire and doesn’t show what happened in the moments after.
Mylett said an officer firing at someone has to be “ready to explain why they did what they did, they need to be able to articulate what specific threats they were facing ... and they need to be held to account.” But he said he is withholding judgment on their actions until they give their statements, and he said the union president has told him that all are “fully cooperating” with the investigation.
Police said more than 60 wounds were found on Walker’s body but further investigation is needed to determine exactly how many rounds the officers fired and how many times Walker was hit. Officers provided aid, and one can be heard saying he still had a pulse, but he was pronounced dead, Mylett said.
A handgun, a loaded magazine and an apparent wedding ring were found on the seat of the car. A casing consistent with the weapon was later found in the area where officers believed a shot had come from the vehicle.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost vowed a “complete, fair and expert investigation” and cautioned that “body-worn camera footage is just one view of the whole picture.”
The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, which is standard practice in such cases.
Demonstrators marched peacefully through the city and gathered in front of the Akron justice center after the video was released. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement that Walker’s death wasn’t self-defense, but “was murder. Point blank.”
Walker’s family is calling for accountability but also for peace, their lawyers said. One of the attorneys, Bobby DiCello, called the burst of police gunfire excessive and unreasonable, and said police handcuffed Walker before trying to provide first aid.
“How it got to this with a pursuit is beyond me,” DiCello said.
He said Walker’s family doesn’t know why he fled from police. Walker was grieving the recent death of his fiancee, but his family had no indication of concern beyond that, and he wasn’t a criminal, DiCello said.
“I hope we remember that as Jayland ran across that parking lot, he was unarmed,” DiCello said.
He said he doesn’t know whether the gold ring found near the gun in the car belonged to Walker.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 03 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • Sanna Irshad Mattoo was to travel for a book launch, photography exhibition
  • The photojournalist is one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason. 

In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020. 

"Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said. 

She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally. 

There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities. 

Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team. 

She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. 

Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019. 


Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

Updated 03 July 2022

Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

  • Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan

QUETTA: A passenger bus plunged into a ravine in southwestern Pakistan on Sunday killing 20 people, a government official said.
The road crash also injured another 13 people aboard the bus that was traveling from garrison city of Rawalpindi to Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, said Ijaz Jaffar, deputy commissioner of Sherani district.
The ravine is some 350 kilometers north of Quetta.
Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan.
The province is home to several Chinese projects under an investment plan in which Beijing is seeking road and sea trade linkages with the world.