US, Iran to speak at UN; Zelensky to appear from Ukraine

The biggest draw of the second day of the UN General Assembly will likely be the only leader to be seen and heard but not actually there in the flesh: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskky. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2022

US, Iran to speak at UN; Zelensky to appear from Ukraine

  • The 193-member assembly earlier voted to allow Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to deliver a pre-recorded address

UNITED NATIONS: Leaders of two of the world’s most-watched nations — US President Joe Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi — will be among those who have their say on the second day of the UN General Assembly’s first fully in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic began.
But the biggest draw Wednesday will likely be the only leader to be seen and heard but not actually there in the flesh: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskky, whose nation is at war with Russia.
The 193-member assembly voted last week to allow Zelensky to deliver a pre-recorded address because of his continuing need to deal with Russia’s invasion, making an exception to its requirement that all leaders speak in person. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the annual gathering of world leaders.
Unsurprisingly, Ukraine has been the center of attention at the assembly, with leader after world leader condemning Russia for attacking a sovereign nation. The war, which has already killed thousands, is driving up food prices around the globe while also causing energy costs to soar — a particularly worrisome issue heading into the winter. It has also raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Ukraine’s now Russia-occupied southeast.
Leaders from many countries are trying to prevent a wider conflict and restore peace in Europe. Diplomats, though, aren’t expecting any breakthroughs this week at the United Nations, where nearly 150 leaders are addressing each other and the world.
Biden’s address on Wednesday is expected to have a heavy focus on the war in Ukraine, where the country’s troops in recent weeks have retaken control of large stretches of territory near Kharkiv that were seized by Russian forces earlier in the nearly seven-month-old war.
But even as Ukrainian forces have racked up battlefield wins, much of Europe is feeling painful blowback from economic sanctions levied against Russia to punish Moscow for its invasion.
At the White House, there’s also growing concern that Putin might further escalate the conflict after recent setbacks. Biden, in a CBS-TV “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday, warned Putin that deploying nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine would result in a “consequential” response from the United States.
Biden’s visit to the UN also comes as his administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appear stalled. The deal brokered by the Obama administration — and scrapped by Trump in 2018 — provided billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s agreement to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to international inspection.
Iran’s president has said he has no plans to meet with Biden on the sidelines of the UN event. Raisi called his first-ever appearance at the United Nations as Iran’s leader an opportunity to explain to the world about alleged “malice” that unspecified nations and world powers have toward Iran but he did not elaborate.
Iran has been facing international criticism over the death of a woman held by its morality police, which ignited days of protests, including clashes with security forces in the capital and other unrest that claimed at least three lives.
The UN human rights office called for an investigation. The United States called on Iran to end its “systemic persecution” of women. Italy also condemned her death.
Iranian officials dismissed the criticism as politically motivated and accused unnamed foreign countries of fomenting the unrest.

Srinagar gets first foreign investment from Dubai's Emaar

Updated 20 March 2023

Srinagar gets first foreign investment from Dubai's Emaar

SRINAGAR: Indian-administered Kashmir is to get its first foreign investment, with Dubai’s Emaar Group due to build a $60 million shopping and office complex, as the government looks to stabilise a region where Muslim separatists have for years battled the government. 

The 5 billion rupee ($60.50 million) development will include a shopping mall and multi-purpose commercial tower in Srinagar, the capital of the Muslim-majority Himalayan region, Emaar announced at an investment summit in the city. 

The announcement on Sunday of what the region's government said was its first foreign investment comes after the central government said last week that Jammu and Kashmir had received record investment of 15 billion rupees ($181 million) in the first 10 months of the 2022-23 (April-March) fiscal year. 

Governments have long tried to woo investors, both domestic and foreign, but with little success due to the three-decade insurgency in a region claimed by both India and Pakistan. 

India says Muslim Pakistan has long supported the insurgency. Pakistan denies that. 

Emaar Properties CEO Amit Jain told reporters that the investment would have a ripple effect. 

“This is the start, we should inspire people, people should aspire to follow us. This is a one million square feet mall with 500 shops and will generate around 7,000 to 8,000 jobs,” Jain said after the ground-breaking ceremony for the "Mall of Srinagar". 

Emaar, builder of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, is Dubai’s largest listed developer. The Dubai government owns a minority stake in the developer through its sovereign wealth fund. 

Top administrator Manoj Sinha said the project had infused confidence in foreign investors and would boost the region's economy. 

In August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federally administered territories as part of an effort to tighten its grip over the region at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan and integrate it more closely with the rest of the country. 

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part, and have fought two of their three wars over it. 

The reorganisation was enacted with a communications blackout and a security clamp-down, with the government flooding the heavily militarised region with troops. 

Many of those restrictions have been eased and the Kashmir Valley, known for its snow-topped mountains and scenic lakes, attracted more than 16 million tourists in 2022, the most since British colonial rule ended in 1947. 

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

Updated 20 March 2023

Tear gas, arrests as Kenya opposition stages protests

  • Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar
  • Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home

NAIROBI: Kenyan riot police fired tear gas and water cannon Monday against demonstrators joining a day of action called by the opposition to protest a punishing cost-of-living crisis.
Running battles erupted between stone-throwing demonstrators and police in parts of Nairobi and at least one other city, in the first major unrest since President William Ruto became president last year, correspondents said.
Ruto’s government has vowed to take a tough stance over the protests, which opposition leader Raila Odinga insisted would go ahead despite not receiving police authorization.
“I want Kenyans to come out in large numbers and show the displeasure of what is happening in our country,” Odinga, who narrowly lost last year’s election to Ruto, told supporters on Sunday.
Police used tear gas against protesters gathered at a site near government offices in the heart of the capital Nairobi, where the major rally was scheduled to take place, and several other areas of the city.
“We came here peacefully but they tear gassed us,” said Charles Oduor, 21, who joined the large crowds in downtown Nairobi.
“They lie to us everyday. Where is the cheap maize flour they promised? Where are the jobs for the youth they promised? All they do is hire their friends.”
Kenyans are suffering from surging prices for basic necessities, as well as a sharp drop in the shilling against the US dollar and a record drought that has left millions hungry.
Odinga said he had called the rallies to protest the “skyrocketing” cost of living but also the “stolen” election last August.
In Nairobi’s biggest slum Kibera, a bastion of Odinga support, people also set tires ablaze while police used water cannon to disperse protesters.
Demonstrators and police also clashed in the lakeside city of Kisumu in western Kenya, another Odinga stronghold.
“Our victory was stolen and we are determined to get it back, we can’t sit back and watch as life becomes more difficult by the day. We want Raila in State House,” said Kevin Ojwang in Kisumu.
Nairobi police chief Adamson Bungei said on Sunday that police received requests to hold two demonstrations only late Saturday and early Sunday, when normally three days’ notice is required.
“For public safety, neither has been granted,” he said.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki warned on Sunday that anyone inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace would be prosecuted.
Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home.
“We are here trying to fight for our rights. Life is so hard. If you see, these young men and women, we don’t have jobs, people are losing their jobs. So that’s why we’re talking about our rights,” said shoeshiner Henry Juma, 26.
Odinga, the leader of the Azimio la Umoja party, who described Monday as a “day of destiny,” continues to claim that Ruto’s August election win was fraudulent and denounces his government as illegitimate.
According to official results, Odinga — who was making his fifth bid for the presidency — lost to Ruto by around 233,000 votes, one of the slenderest margins in Kenya’s history.
The Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, with its judges giving a unanimous ruling in favor of Ruto, finding there was no evidence for Odinga’s accusations.
Ruto has declared that he would not be intimidated by the demonstrations, saying: “You are not going to threaten us with ultimatums and chaos and impunity.”
“We will not allow that,” he said, calling on Odinga to act in a “legal and constitutional manner.”


China’s Xi arrives in Russia to meet Putin over Ukraine war

Updated 20 March 2023

China’s Xi arrives in Russia to meet Putin over Ukraine war

  • Russia is presenting Xi’s trip as evidence that it has a powerful friend prepared to stand with it against a hostile West

Chinese President Xi Jinping flew into Moscow on Monday where he was expected to press Beijing’s role as a potential peacemaker in the Ukraine conflict while Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped for support against Western pressure.

Xi will be the first national leader to shake Putin’s hand since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday over the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia since its invasion.

Moscow said the charge was among a number of “clearly hostile displays” and Beijing said it reflects double standards.

Russia is presenting Xi’s trip, his first since securing an unprecedented third term this month, as evidence that it has a powerful friend prepared to stand with it against a hostile West that it accuses of trying to isolate and defeat Moscow.

“We can feel the geopolitical landscape in the outside world undergoing drastic changes,” Putin said in an article in China’s People’s Daily published on the Kremlin website, adding that he had high hopes for the visit from his “good old friend.”

For Xi, the visit is a diplomatic tightrope.

China has released a 12-point proposal to solve the Ukraine crisis, but at the same time strengthened ties with Moscow.

China has repeatedly dismissed Western accusations that it is planning to arm Russia but says it wants a closer energy partnership after boosting imports of Russian coal, gas and oil following Putin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. Western sanctions on Russian energy mean Beijing has saved billions of dollars.

Xi arrived in Moscow on Monday afternoon and was due to hold “informal” talks with Putin, followed by dinner.

Formal talks are scheduled for Tuesday.

Xi wrote in an article published in Russia that the two countries adhered to the concept of “eternal friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation” and that China’s Ukraine peace proposal, released last month, reflects global views.

“Complex problems do not have simple solutions,” Xi wrote in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a daily published by the Russian government, according to a Reuters translation from Russian.

Ukraine and its Western backers say any cease-fire would merely buy Putin time to reinforce ahead of a planned Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will only consider peace settlements after Russian troops leave Ukrainian territory.

China’s proposal contains no concrete proposal on how to end the year-long war which has killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed cities and forced millions to flee.

Putin welcomed China’s offer to mediate and the Kremlin said he would provide Xi with detailed “clarifications” of Russia’s position, without elaborating. Putin signed a “no limits” partnership with Xi last year shortly before he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine to end what he said was a threat to Russia from its moves toward the West.

The US notes that China has declined to condemn Russia and given it an economic lifeline.

Alongside growing oil and coal deliveries to China, Putin said Russia was helping to build nuclear power reactors there and the two countries were deepening cooperation in space exploration and new technologies.

As Western pressure on Russia grows, Putin’s administration has told officials to stop using Apple iPhones because of concerns the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, a newspaper reported on Monday.

“Either throw it away or give it to the children,” the Kommersant daily quoted a participant of the meeting as saying.

Justice ministers from around the world will meet in London on Monday to discuss support for the ICC and several European Union countries are expected to sign an agreement in Brussels to buy 155 mm artillery shells for Ukraine.

Ukraine has identified the shells’ supply as critical, with both sides firing thousands of rounds every day. The first joint orders are not expected until the end of May but EU officials hope the plan will encourage member states to send more of their stockpiles to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, fierce fighting continued in the eastern town of Bakhmut with each side launching counter offensives. Ukrainian forces have held out in Bakhmut since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Giving its regular morning roundup from the front, Ukraine’s military said defenders in Bakhmut, Lyman, Ivanivske, Bohdanivka and Hryhorivka — all towns in the Donetsk region — had repelled 69 Russian attacks in the past day.

“Bakhmut remains the epicenter of hostilities,” it said.

British intelligence said Ukrainian supply lines both west of Bakhmut and west of the town of Avdiivka, further south, were under pressure.

Ukraine’s military said that Russian forces were on the defensive in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to the south.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group which is spearheading the assault on Bakhmut and has suffered heavy losses, plans to recruit some 30,000 new fighters by the middle of May, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said at the weekend.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a pardon if they survived six months.

Ukrainian officials have said that some 30,000 of Wagner’s fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded, a figure that could not be independently verified.

Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper

Updated 20 March 2023

Kremlin tells officials to stop using iPhones – Kommersant newspaper

  • ‘It’s all over for the iPhone: either throw it away or give it to the children’
  • The Kremlin may provide other devices with different operating systems to replace the iPhones

MOSCOW: Russia’s presidential administration has told officials to stop using Apple iPhones because of concerns the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.
At a Kremlin-organized seminar for officials involved in domestic politics, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy head of the presidential administration, told officials to change their phones by April 1, Kommersant said, citing unidentified sources.
“It’s all over for the iPhone: either throw it away or give it to the children,” Kommersant quoted one of the participants of the meeting as saying. “Everyone will have to do it in March.”
The Kremlin may provide other devices with different operating systems to replace the iPhones, Kommersant said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not confirm the report, but that smartphones could not be used for official purposes anyway.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Vladimir Putin has always said he has no smartphone, though Peskov has said Putin does use the Internet from time to time.
Shortly after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine last year, US and British spies claimed a scoop by uncovering — and going public with — intelligence that Putin was planning to invade. It is unclear how the spies obtained such intelligence.

Thailand dissolves parliament for election

Updated 20 March 2023

Thailand dissolves parliament for election

  • An election must be held 45 to 60 days after the house dissolution, which takes effect immediately

BANGKOK: Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has endorsed a decree to dissolve parliament, according to an announcement in the Royal Gazette on Monday, paving the way for elections in May.
An election must be held 45 to 60 days after the house dissolution, which takes effect immediately.
“This is a return of political decision-making power to the people swiftly to continue democratic government with the King as head of state,” said the decree published on Monday.
An election date has yet to be announced but deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam earlier in the day said it would likely be held on May 14, if the house were dissolved on Monday.
Thailand’s election is expected to showcase a long-running political battle between the billionaire Shinawatra family and the country’s conservative pro-military establishment.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter and niece respectively of ousted former premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, is the frontrunner to be prime minister in opinion surveys, with her support jumping 10 points to 38.2 percent in a poll released at the weekend.
The poll by the National Institute of Development Administration put Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has been in power since a 2014 coup against the Pheu Thai government, in third place with 15.65 percent.
Paetongtarn on Friday said she was confident of winning the election by a landslide, with the aim of averting any political maneuvering against her party, which has previously been removed from office by judicial rulings and military coups.