Russian strike kills eight, including toddler, in eastern Ukraine

Emergency workers and servicemen rescue a child from a partially destroyed residential building after a shelling in Sloviansk, on Apr. 14, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2023
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Russian strike kills eight, including toddler, in eastern Ukraine

  • The strike on the quiet neighbourhood came as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that will make it easier to mobilise citizens into the army
  • Russia also said it was pushing further into the hotspot of Bakhmut, 45 kilometres

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine: Russia shelled a block of flats in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk on Friday, killing eight people, including a toddler who was pulled out of the rubble but died in an ambulance on the way to hospital, authorities said.
The strike on the quiet neighborhood came as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that will make it easier to mobilize citizens into the army, and block them from fleeing the country if drafted.
Russia also said it was pushing further into the hotspot of Bakhmut, 45 kilometers (27 miles) southeast of Sloviansk, which is one of the cities that will be at risk if Kyiv loses the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Sloviansk lies in a part of the Donetsk region that is under Ukrainian control.
“21 people were wounded and eight people died,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region, said on Ukrainian television after the strike devastated an apartment building.
He said the child who died was a boy.
AFP journalists saw rescue workers digging for survivors on the top floor of the typical Soviet-era housing bloc, and black smoke billowing from homes on fire across the street.
“A child died in an ambulance after being pulled out from the rubble,” Ukrainian police said on Twitter.
Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska sent her condolences to the child’s family during this “indescribable grief.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier denounced Russia for “brutally shelling” residential buildings and “killing people in broad daylight.”
The street below — including a playground — was covered in concrete dust and debris, including torn pages from schoolbooks and children’s drawings.
“I live on the opposite side of the street and I was sleeping a little when I heard this huge boom and I ran out from my flat,” 59-year-old resident Larisa told AFP.
“I was really scared and in a state of shock,” she said, adding that the impact of the shelling had broken her windows and sent shards of glass flying throughout her home.
“I heard a woman screaming, ‘there’s a child here, there’s a child here’ — She was screaming so much.”
A resident nearby, who declined to give her name, told AFP that the strikes had blown out her windows and dislodged her front door from its frame.
“No one from our side of the building was injured but maybe someone here was,” she added, pointing to a pool of blood next to another entrance of her building.
More than a year after Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine, fears are high in Russia that the government is planning a fresh mobilization drive after a bill was rushed through parliament this week to create a digital draft system.
Under the legislation, which Putin signed Friday, a draftee would be banned from traveling abroad and would have to report to an enlistment office once electronic call-up papers are received.
Tens of thousands of men fled Russia last autumn after Putin announced a mobilization to prop up the forces in Ukraine.
The strike on Sloviansk, which many residents have fled since Russia invaded, came as Moscow said it was pushing to take more districts of ravaged Bakhmut.
Despite having little strategic value, the town has become a fixation of military commanders, leading to a brutal nine-month war of attrition.
“Wagner assault units are conducting high-intensity combat operations to conquer the western districts of the city,” the Russian army said in a statement, referring to the private paramilitary group.
Russian airborne troops were “providing support to assault squads and halting the enemy’s attempts to deliver ammunition to the city and bring in reserves,” it added.
On Thursday, Moscow claimed to have cut off Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut. Kyiv denied the claim, saying it had access to its troops and was able to send in munitions.
Ukraine has vowed to continue defending Bakhmut. But on the ground, Ukrainian sources near Bakhmut told AFP on Friday that Kyiv’s forces were in a “difficult” position.
“I know that many of our soldiers are missing, that positions were lost and it was impossible to evacuate or withdraw the troops,” an army source said, while adding that Ukraine was still “bringing in fresh people” into Bakhmut.
Separately, an intelligence source said any pullout from Bakhmut would be slow and gradual, as there was only a narrow escape path left.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 4 sec ago
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally
BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 37 min 32 sec ago
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Updated 23 June 2024
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Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.