Olympics row deepens as 35 countries demand ban for Russia and Belarus

A view of a monitor shows an online meeting of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky with sport ministers of 35 countries to discuss a ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 10, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 February 2023
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Olympics row deepens as 35 countries demand ban for Russia and Belarus

  • The move cranks up the pressure on IOC that is desperate to avoid the sporting event being torn asunder by the bloody conflict unfolding in Ukraine
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took part in the online meeting attended by 35 ministers to discuss the call for the ban

VILNIUS: A group of 35 countries, including the United States, Germany and Australia, will demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from the 2024 Olympics, the Lithuanian sports minister said on Friday, deepening the uncertainty over the Paris Games.
The move cranks up the pressure on an International Olympic Committee (IOC) that is desperate to avoid the sporting event being torn asunder by the bloody conflict unfolding in Ukraine.
“We are going in the direction that we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous,” Jurgita Siugzdiniene said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took part in the online meeting attended by 35 ministers to discuss the call for the ban, pointing out 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches died as a result of the Russian aggression.
“If there’s an Olympics sport with killings and missile strikes, you know which national team would take the first place,” he told the ministers.
“Terror and Olympism are two opposites, they cannot be combined.”
British sports minister Lucy Frazer said on Twitter that the meeting was very productive.
“I made the UK’s position very clear: As long as Putin continues his barbaric war, Russia and Belarus must not be represented at the Olympics,” she wrote.
Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State who leads the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, also participated in the meeting.
“The Assistant Secretary outlined that the United States will continue to join a vast community of nations in our unwavering support for the people of Ukraine and hold the Russian Federation accountable for its brutal and barbaric war against Ukraine, as well as the complicit Lukashenka regime in Belarus,” a US Department of State spokesperson said.
“We will continue to consult with our independent National Olympic Committee — the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee — on next steps, and look forward to greater clarity by the IOC on their proposed policy toward Russia and Belarus.”
With war raging in Ukraine, the Baltic States, Nordic countries and Poland had called on international sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympics.
Russia launched a wave of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in the cities of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia on Friday morning as Ukrainian officials said a long-awaited Russian offensive was under way in the east.
“We know that 70 percent of Russian athletes are soldiers. I consider it unacceptable that such people participate in the Olympic Games in the current situation, when fair play obviously means nothing to them,” Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavsky said after meeting the heads of the Czech IOC and the national sports agency.
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Ukraine has threatened to boycott the games if Russian and Belarusian athletes compete and Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk has said Russians will win “medals of blood, deaths and tears” if allowed to take part.
Such threats have revived memories of boycotts in the 1970s and 1980s during the Cold War era that still haunt the global Olympic body today, and it has called on Ukraine to drop them.
However, Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk said that a boycott was not on the table for now.
“It’s not time to talk about a boycott yet,” he told a news conference, saying there were other ways of putting pressure on the IOC that could be explored first.
He said that most participants had been in favor of an absolute exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“Most voices — with the exception of Greece, France, Japan — were exactly in this tone,” he said.
He said that creating a team of refugees that would include Russian and Belarusian dissidents could be a compromise solution.
The IOC has opened the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals. It has said a boycott will violate the Olympic Charter and that its inclusion of Russians and Belarusians is based on a UN resolution against discrimination within the Olympic movement.
Some 18 months before the competition is due to start, the IOC is desperate to calm the waters so as not to jeopardize the Games’ message of global peace and deliver a huge hit to income.
While Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of host city Paris, said Russian athletes should not take part, Paris 2024 organizers, who last week said they would abide by the IOC’s decision on who would take part in the Games, declined to comment.
The Russian sports ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment. An IOC spokesperson said they would not comment “on interpretations from individual participants of a meeting whose overall content is unknown.”


Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

Updated 6 sec ago
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Sunak says UK to raise defense spending amid global threats

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters
The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance

WARSAW: Britain will raise defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 in a “most dangerous” world, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday during a visit to Poland.
The commitment came as NATO countries face pressure to raise defense spending in the face of global threats, particularly from Russia.
“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” Sunak told reporters in Warsaw, where he held a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The increase in spending from 2.3 percent will see the UK become one of the highest spenders on defense in the 32-member defense alliance after the United States, the British government said.
It means the UK is expected to spend £87 billion on defense in 2030-31, an increase of £23 billion over current levels.
“I believe we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values,” Sunak said, announcing “the biggest strengthening of national defense for a generation.”
Western nations are under pressure to boost defense funding following Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine as well as the threat of escalation in the Middle East.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen recently called for a “European awakening on defense and security.”
Brussels is set to come up with more proposals for financing the defense push by a summit of EU leaders in June.
Sunak has also faced calls from his Conservative Party to boost defense spending, with some calling for a level of three percent of GDP.
On Tuesday, Sunak also announced £500 million additional funding for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia.

A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says

Updated 54 min 12 sec ago
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A Russian strike on Kharkiv’s TV tower is part of an intimidation campaign, Ukraine’s Zelensky says

  • Kharkiv region straddles the approximately 1,000-kilometer front line where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in battle for more than two years
  • “Four priorities are key: defense of the sky, modern artillery, long-range capacity, and to ensure that packages of American aid arrive as soon as possible,” Zelensky said

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a Russian missile strike that smashed a prominent skyline television tower in Kharkiv was part of the Kremlin’s effort to intimidate Ukraine’s second-largest city, which in recent weeks has come under increasingly frequent attack.
The strike sought to “make the terror visible to the whole city and to try to limit Kharkiv’s connection and access to information,” Zelensky said in a Monday evening address.
The northeastern Kharkiv region straddles the approximately 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in battle for more than two years since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The front line has changed little during a war of attrition, focused mostly on artillery, drones and trenches.
Since late March, Russia has stepped up the pressure on Kharkiv, apparently aiming to exploit Ukraine’s shortage of air defense systems. It has pounded the local power grid and hit apartment blocks.
On Monday, a Russian Kh-59 missile struck Kharkiv’s 250-meter (820-foot) -high TV tower, breaking it roughly in half and halting transmissions.
A Washington think tank said Russia may be eyeing a ground assault on Kharkiv.
“The Kremlin is conducting a concerted air and information operation to destroy Kharkiv City, convince Ukrainians to flee, and internally displace millions of Ukrainians ahead of a possible future Russian offensive operation against the city or elsewhere in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War said in an assessment.
The expected arrival in Ukraine in coming weeks of new military aid from its Western partners possibly has prompted Russia to escalate its attacks before the help arrives, the ISW said, adding that trying to capture Kharkiv would be “a significant challenge” for the Kremlin’s forces.
Instead, the Russian military command “may attempt to destroy Kharkiv City with air, missile, and drone strikes and prompt a large-scale internal displacement of Ukrainian civilians,” it said.
The US Senate was returning to Washington on Tuesday to vote on $61 billion in war aid to Ukraine after months of delays. Zelensky said US President Joe Biden assured him the aid would include long-range and artillery capabilities.
“Four priorities are key: defense of the sky, modern artillery, long-range capacity, and to ensure that packages of American aid arrive as soon as possible,” Zelensky said.
Also Tuesday, Britain pledged 500 million pounds ($620 million, 580 million euros) in new military supplies for Ukraine, including 400 vehicles, 60 boats, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition.
The shipment will also include British Storm Shadow long-range missiles, which have a range of about 150 miles (240 kilometers) and have proven effective at hitting Russian targets, the British government said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Zelensky on Tuesday morning to confirm the new assistance. He was due to announce the aid later Tuesday during a visit to Warsaw where he was meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Less cheering news came from the European Union, however. EU countries that have Patriot air defense systems gave no clear sign Monday that they might be willing to send them to Ukraine, which is desperately seeking at least seven of the missile batteries.
Ukraine’s army is also heavily outnumbered in the fight, and expanding the country’s mobilization has been a delicate issue.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday signaled that authorities plan to clamp down on young men of conscription age who have moved abroad, with details of the specific measures to be made public soon.
“Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba said on the social media platform X.
Meanwhile, Russia launched 16 Shahed drones and two Iskander-M ballistic missiles over Ukraine’s southern and central regions, the Ukrainian air force said Tuesday morning. It said all but one of the drones were intercepted.
In Odesa, an overnight attack injured nine people, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. Among those injured were two infants and two children aged nine and 12, Kiper said. City mayor Hennadii Trukhanov said 58 apartments in 22 buildings were damaged.
In other developments:
A Russian missile strike near Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, injured four people who were admitted to hospital, regional Gov. Serhii Lysak said.
Russian forces dropped a guided aerial bomb in Kostiantynivka, a city in the eastern Donetsk region, injuring five people who were riding in a car, police said. Two of them were in critical conditions.


Trump to meet with senior Japanese official after court session Tuesday in hush money trial

Updated 23 April 2024
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Trump to meet with senior Japanese official after court session Tuesday in hush money trial

  • “Leaders from around the world know that with President Trump we had a safer, more peaceful world,” said Trump spokesperson Brian Hughes
  • Trump met last week with Polish President Andrzej Duda at Trump Tower and also met recently with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump is meeting with another foreign leader while he’s in New York for his criminal hush money trial.
The presumptive GOP nominee will host former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso at Trump Tower Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been formally announced.
Aso is just the latest foreign leader to spend time with Trump in recent weeks as US allies prepare for the possibility that he could win back the White House this November.
“Leaders from around the world know that with President Trump we had a safer, more peaceful world,” said Trump spokesperson Brian Hughes in a statement. “Meetings and calls from world leaders reflect the recognition of what we already know here at home. Joe Biden is weak, and when President Trump is sworn in as the 47th President of the United States, the world will be more secure and America will be more prosperous.”
Trump met last week with Polish President Andrzej Duda at Trump Tower and also met recently with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Trump was close with Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister who was assassinated in 2022. Aso is vice president of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party and also served as deputy prime minister and finance minister under Abe.
Trump has threatened to impose broad new tariffs if he wins a second term.
Early Tuesday morning, he complained about the US dollar reaching a new high against the Japanese yen, calling it “a total disaster for the United States.”
“When I was President, I spent a good deal of time telling Japan and China, in particular, you can’t do that,” he wrote on his Truth Social platform. “It sounds good to stupid people, but it is a disaster for our manufacturers and others.”
The US dollar is trading at above 150 yen recently, up from 130-yen mark a year ago, which has made it more costly for Japan to import goods but has boosted exports.
President Joe Biden hosted current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House for talks and a state dinner earlier this month. During the visit, the leaders announced plans to upgrade US-Japan military relations, with both sides looking to tighten cooperation amid concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and China’s increasing military assertiveness in the Pacific.


Bangladesh, Qatar sign 10 cooperation deals during emir’s first Dhaka trip

Updated 23 April 2024
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Bangladesh, Qatar sign 10 cooperation deals during emir’s first Dhaka trip

  • Agreements cover investment, maritime transport and establishment of joint business council
  • Bangladeshi president invited Qatar’s emir to invest in the country’s special economic zones

DHAKA: Bangladesh and Qatar signed 10 cooperation agreements on Tuesday as the Gulf state’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani made his first official visit to Dhaka.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Tamim witnessed the signing ceremony, which covered deals on investment, maritime transport, taxation, legal affairs and the establishment of a Bangladesh-Qatar joint business council.

The two countries also signed several memoranda of understanding, including on diplomatic training, education, labor, youth and sports, as well as port management cooperation.

Sheikh Tamim then held a meeting with President Mohammed Shahabuddin as part of his visit to Bangladesh, which is the second stop in the emir’s Asia tour that began in the Philippines on Sunday.

During their talks, Shahabuddin invited Qatar to invest in Bangladesh’s special economic zones.

“Bangladesh will welcome investments in various sectors including in state-led food supply chains from production to consumption such as agro-production and processing, food packaging, smart agriculture and fertilizer production,” Shahabuddin’s press secretary Joynal Abedin told reporters after the meeting.

“Qatar investors can get massive incentives and support in sectors like petrochemicals, energy, machineries, information technology, electronics, ceramics, agri-business, and food processing in Bangladesh.”

Shahabuddin also urged Sheikh Tamim to recruit more skilled workers from Bangladesh during their talks, Abedin said.  

Qatar is currently the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas to Bangladesh. Earlier this year, the emirate signed a 15-year agreement with the US-based Excelerate Energy to supply 1 million metric tons per year of LNG to Bangladesh starting from January 2026.

The Gulf state is also home to about 400,000 Bangladeshis who live and work there, as it is one of the preferred destinations for migrant workers from the South Asian country.


India’s Modi calls rivals pro-Muslim as election campaign changes tack

Updated 23 April 2024
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India’s Modi calls rivals pro-Muslim as election campaign changes tack

  • Modi has accused Congress of having an election plan to redistribute wealth of Hindus among Muslims
  • Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of discrimination against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party have begun attacking opposition rivals, saying they favor minority Muslims, in what analysts see as a bid to invigorate their hard-line base after general elections began last week.
India began voting on Friday in a seven-phase election at which Modi seeks a rare third consecutive term, with campaigning that had so far largely focused on his record of growth and welfare as well as his personal popularity.
But in a speech on Sunday, Modi referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” who have “more children,” linking the comment to what he called an election plan of the main opposition Congress party to redistribute the wealth of Hindus among Muslims.
The Congress denied making any such promise and petitioned the Election Commission to act against Modi, who surveys suggest will win a comfortable majority, though analysts say his party wants to avert possible voter fatigue and overconfidence.
The controversial remarks were an unusual “deviation” from Modi’s usual practice as he rarely targets Muslims directly, said Hilal Ahmed, a political analyst at Delhi’s Center for the Study of Developing Societies.
They followed low voter turnout in areas where the BJP had done well in 2019, he added.
“The low turnout simply means that the committed BJP voter has not yet come out,” Ahmed said. “They obviously want the committed voter to come out. That is the reason for this deviation.”
The comment on redistribution of wealth to Muslims was supported and amplified on Monday by BJP members, including Modi’s powerful cabinet colleague, Home Minister Amit Shah, who mentioned it in a campaign speech.
Modi aired the claim again on Tuesday, a day after speaking about the gains Muslims have made during his 10-year rule.
In the southern state of Karnataka, half of which votes on Friday in the second phase of elections, BJP members have staged protests against last week’s murder of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man.
They say the incident is an instance of “love jihad,” a term Hindu groups use to accuse Muslim men of waging a campaign that lures Hindu women to convert to Islam with promises of marriage.

EXPOSING OPPOSITION, BJP SAYS

Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of targeting and discrimination against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims, who form the world’s third-largest Muslim population.
The government has denied all accusations, and Modi has said he works for the betterment of all.
“Stating facts and exposing the flawed strategy of the opposition is our job,” BJP president J.P. Nadda told Reuters, when asked about Modi’s weekend comments.
But he said the BJP remained committed to its slogan of betterment, underlining reforms pushed by Modi’s government to help Muslim women and the poor among the community.
Another senior BJP leader and member of the party’s central election panel said Modi’s Sunday comments should not be seen as “polarizing,” as he had only reminded voters about the “Muslim-first strategy” of Congress and its allies.
He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In January, Modi inaugurated a grand temple to the Hindu god-king Lord Ram on a once-disputed site believed to be his birthplace, fulfilling a longstanding promise projected by the BJP as a symbol of Hindu rejuvenation.
In campaign speeches Modi refers to the temple, but he has focused more on his development and welfare record and national pride to counter the opposition focus on joblessness, price rise and rural distress in the world’s fastest growing major economy.
“When the campaign started, the focus was entirely on development, welfare, reaching out to marginalized people and Hindutva came last,” said analyst Ahmed, referring to the Hindu nationalism espoused by the BJP.
“After the first phase, they realized they need to go back to their own voters ... back to the basics.”