Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's PM Magdalena Andersson and NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg at Madrid's NATO Summit. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Expanding NATO squares up to Russia as Putin slams ‘imperial’ alliance

  • Finland and Sweden formally invited to join alliance
  • US announces new deployments of troops, ships and planes

MADRID: The United States vowed Wednesday to reinforce Europe’s defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as NATO declared Moscow the West’s greatest threat — prompting Vladimir Putin to lash out at the alliance’s “imperial ambitions.”
Meeting in Madrid, NATO leaders said Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
This came as NATO welcomed Sweden and Finland as invitees to join the alliance, and US President Joe Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and planes.
Biden boasted that the US move was exactly what Putin “didn’t want” — and Moscow, facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces equipped with Western arms, reacted with predictable fury.
Putin accused the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy,” telling journalists in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat that Ukraine and its people are “a means” for NATO to “defend their own interests.”
“The NATO countries’ leaders wish to... assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions,” the Russian president added.

NATO leaders have funnelled billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine and faced a renewed appeal from President Volodymyr Zelensky for more long-range artillery.
“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said, announcing a new NATO strategic overview that focuses on the Moscow threat.
The document, updated for the first time since 2010, warned that the alliance “cannot discount the possibility” of an attack on its members.
“Today in Madrid, NATO proved it can take difficult but essential decisions. We welcome a clear-eyed stance on Russia, as well as the accession for Finland and Sweden,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Sweden and Finland, which abandoned decades of military non-alignment in response to the invasion to seek NATO membership, were officially invited in Wednesday.
Putin dismissed the move as “no problem.”
“We don’t have problems with Sweden and Finland like we do with Ukraine ... They can join whatever they want,” he said in Ashgabat.
In Ukraine, officials said that Russian missiles had hit civilian housing and businesses in and around the cities of Dnipro, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, leaving at least seven dead and 14 wounded.
The Russian defense ministry said the Kharkiv attack had hit Ukrainian command centers and a training base for foreign “mercenaries.”
And it said it had inflicted severe casualties on Ukrainian troops defending the town of Lysychansk in Lugansk, one of the two provinces that make up the large eastern Donbas region.
The frequency of the shelling there is “enormous,” the regional governor of Lugansk, Sergiy Gaiday, said in televised comments Wednesday, adding that the evacuation of some 15,000 civilians still in the city “might be dangerous at the moment.”
Lugansk and Donetsk, also in the Donbas, are breakaway states that have escaped Kyiv’s control since 2014.
Moscow recognized their independence in February — and on Wednesday Russia’s ally Syria became the only other nation to do so.
The move prompted Zelensky to immediately break off ties with Damascus. “There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.
In Kremenchuk, the town where a Russian missile on Monday destroyed a shopping center and killed at least 18 civilians, clearing operations continued.
A giant crane was working near the site of impact, and in the rubble-strewn parking area shopping trolleys piled with clothes and household goods lay abandoned.
Western leaders have dubbed the Kremenchuk strike a war crime. Russia says it hit a depot storing Western arms, and Putin on Wednesday denied Moscow’s forces were responsible for the strike on the shopping center.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said that 144 of their soldiers, most of them former defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, had been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.Moscow’s invasion triggered massive economic sanctions and a wave of support for Zelensky’s government, including deliveries of advanced weapons, as well as the reinforcement of Europe’s defenses.
Washington has announced that it will shift the headquarters of its 5th Army Corps to Poland.
An army brigade will rotate in and out of Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters will deploy to Britain, US air defense systems will be sent to Germany and Italy, and the fleet of US Navy destroyers in Spain will grow from four to six.
“That’s exactly what he didn’t want but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe,” Biden said, of Putin’s efforts to roll back Western influence and re-establish influence or control over territories of the former Russian empire.
Britain also pledged another $1.2 billion in military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, including air defense systems and drones.
And Norway said it would donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decisions made by Britain, Germany and the United States.
Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo became the first Asian leader to visit Kyiv since Russia invaded on February 24.
Zelensky said he had accepted an invitation to attend the upcoming G20 summit in Bali, depending “on the security situation” — and on the guest list.
It is not clear whether Putin will be invited in November, with some capitals pushing for his exclusion.


Greece accuses Turkey of forcing stranded migrants over border

Updated 10 sec ago

Greece accuses Turkey of forcing stranded migrants over border

  • The migrants were trapped on an islet in the Evros river at the border between the two countries
  • Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the group were now being provided medical treatment in Greece
ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday accused Turkey of forcibly pushing a group of stranded migrants onto a small Greek island and leaving behind the body of a five-year-old child who died.
The incident follows years of tensions between the neighbors over migration issues, with each side blaming the other of avoiding their responsibilities.
The migrants were trapped on an islet in the Evros river at the border between the two countries.
In a statement issued while visiting the area, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the group were now being provided medical treatment in Greece.
He said the 35 Syrians and three Palestinians had originally arrived on the Turkish side of the river.
“The Turkish authorities forced them to cross illegally into Greece,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It appears from statements that a 5-year-old child died on Turkish soil,” he added. Greek officials would work with the Red Cross to ensure her body was recovered for a proper burial.
Greek police suggested the group had not been found earlier as the migrants, who included a pregnant woman, were “some four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the point initially declared, which was outside Greek territory.”
The pregnant woman has been transferred to hospital.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR had previously expressed concern for the group and called for them to be cared for.
Greek police said they had informed Turkish border authorities about the case “twice” in recent days.
Tensions have simmered between Greece and Turkey over the issue of migrants, with both sides accusing the other of “pushbacks” on the border.
Earlier this year, Turkey said 12 migrants had frozen to death after being stripped of their clothes and moved on by Greek border guards.

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

Updated 16 August 2022

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

  • She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina: First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday.
She had been vacationing with President Joe Biden in South Carolina when she began experiencing symptoms on Monday. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.
Joe Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said, but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He recovered from a rebound case of the virus on Aug.7.


Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

  • Police said 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured
  • The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force

SRINAGAR: A bus carrying personnel from India’s high-altitude border police rolled off a mountainous road and fell into a gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, killing at least six officers, police said.

Kashmir police said on Twitter the injured were being flown to an army hospital in the Himalayan region’s main city of Srinagar, some 90 km (55 miles) from the accident site in Anantnag district.

A police officer told Reuters that 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured.

The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force, a federal force specializing in high-altitude operations, mainly on the Indo-China border.

Pictures from the site showed mangled remains of the bus by a fast-flowing river.


Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Updated 16 August 2022

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

  • Minister for higher education said they are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight
  • Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban are skeptical of modern education

KABUL: Afghan university students will have to attend more compulsory Islamic studies classes, education officials said Tuesday while giving little sign that secondary schools for girls would reopen.
Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban, which swept back into power a year ago, are skeptical of modern education.
“We are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight,” said Abdul Baqi Haqqani, minister for higher education, including Islamic history, politics and governance.
The number of compulsory religious classes will increase from one to three a week in government universities.
He told a news conference that the Taliban would not order any subjects to be dropped from the current curriculum.
However, some universities have altered studies on music and sculpture — highly sensitive issues under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law — while an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite, including professors, has seen many subjects discontinued.
Officials have for months insisted that schools will reopen for girls, swaying between technical and financial issues as reasons for the continued closures.
Abdulkhaliq Sadiq, a senior official at the education ministry, on Tuesday said families in rural areas were still not convinced of the need to send girls to secondary school.
Under the Taliban’s last regime between 1996 and 2001, both primary and secondary schools for girls never reopened.
“We are trying to come up with a sound policy in coordination with our leaders... so that those in rural areas are also convinced,” he said.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Although young women are still permitted to attend university, many have dropped out because of the cost or because their families are afraid for them to be out in public in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, without a secondary school certificate, teenage girls will not be able to sit future university entrance exams.
The international community has made the right to education a key condition for formally recognizing the Taliban government.
Despite being in power for a year, no country has so far recognized the government.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

Updated 16 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

  • Police charged Afghan Muhammad Syed with two  murders, linked four killings to personal grudges
  • Son Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Police believe the son of the prime suspect in the killings of four Muslim men may have played a role in the murders, which have shaken the Muslim community in New Mexico's largest city.

Cellphone data shows Shaheen Syed, 21, was in the same "general area" of Albuquerque as his father at the time of the Aug. 5 killing of 25-year-old trucking entrepreneur Naeem Hussain, according to a filing by federal prosecutors for a Monday detention hearing during which Syed was denied bail.

Syed's attorney John Anderson said the allegations were "exceedingly thin and speculative."

Police last week charged Shaheen Syed's father, Muhammad Syed, 51, with two of the murders and linked the four killings to personal grudges, possibly fueled by intra-Muslim sectarian hatred. Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.

"Law enforcement officers also have recently discovered evidence that appears to tie the defendant, Shaheen Syed, to these killings," the filing said.

Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Naeem Hussain leaving an Aug. 5 funeral service for two of the murdered Muslim men, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data. He then followed Hussain to the area of a parking lot where he was shot dead.

"Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant (Shaheen Syed) would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting," the filing said.

Prosecutors did not provide evidence on the other shootings.

Imtiaz Hussain said he believed at least two people were involved in the Aug. 1 murder of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

A pistol and rifle were used to shoot Afzaal Hussain, a city planning director, 15 times in around 15 to 20 seconds, according to police records and Imtiaz.

“For one suspect it is difficult to use two weapons in that short an interval,“ said Imtiaz Hussain.

The victims Naeem Hussain and Afzaal Hussain were not related.

Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee, has been charged with killing Afzaal Hussain, who was from Pakistan, and cafe manager Aftab Hussein, 41, who had ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A fourth man, supermarket owner Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi.