Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky says that his country’s ‘warriors on the front lines’ would feel the benefit of the aid package. Above, people walk past a memorial wall in Kyiv with photographs of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war. (AP)
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Updated 21 April 2024
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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

  • US House of Representatives swiftly approves $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a rare Saturday session

KYIV: Ukrainian and Western leaders welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the US House of Representatives, as the Kremlin claimed the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.
The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved Ukrainian flags.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had warned that his country would lose the war without US funding, said that he was grateful for the decision of US lawmakers.
“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble,” he wrote on social media site X.
“America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” he said.
The Ukrainian president noted that his country’s “warriors on the front lines” would feel the benefit of the aid package.
One such “warrior” is infantry soldier Oleksandr, fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.
“For us it’s so important to have this support from the US and our partners,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He did not give his full name for security reasons.
“With this we can stop them and reduce our losses. It’s the first step to have the possibility to liberate our territory.”
Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching toward the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the Donetsk region.
“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr said. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”
Other Western leaders lauded the passing of the aid package.
“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on X.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia.”
In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”
The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.
The whole aid package will go to the US Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.


Indian capital records highest-ever temperature at 49.9°Celsius: weather bureau

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Indian capital records highest-ever temperature at 49.9°Celsius: weather bureau

  • New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in an intense heatwave
  • Warnings on heat’s impact on health, especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases
NEW DELHI: Temperatures in India’s capital soared to a record-high 49.9° Celsius on Tuesday, the government’s weather bureau said.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), which reported “severe heat-wave conditions,” recorded the temperatures at two Delhi suburbs stations at Narela and Mungeshpur.
Forecasters predict similar temperatures on Wednesday.
In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2° Celsius, Indian media reported at the time.
India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures.
But years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.
New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in an intense heatwave — cutting supplies to some areas.
Water Minister Atishi Marlena has called for “collective responsibility” to stop wasteful water use, the Times of India newspaper reported Wednesday.
“To address the problem of water scarcity, we have taken a slew of measures such as reducing water supply from twice a day to once a day in many areas,” Atishi said, the Indian Express reported.
“The water thus saved will be rationed and supplied to the water-deficient areas where supply lasts only 15 to 20 minutes a day,” she added.
The IMD warned of the heat’s impact on health, especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
At the same time, West Bengal state and the northeastern state of Mizoram have been hit by gales and lashing rains from Cyclone Remal, which hit India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing more than 38 people.
Bangladesh’s Meteorological Department said the cyclone was “one of longest in the country’s history,” blaming climate change for the shift.

Nikki Haley writes ‘finish them’ on Israeli shell: lawmaker

Updated 29 May 2024
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Nikki Haley writes ‘finish them’ on Israeli shell: lawmaker

WASHINGTON: Former US presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has been photographed writing “Finish Them” on an Israeli shell as she toured sites near the northern border with Lebanon.
The photograph was posted on X on Tuesday by Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli parliament and former ambassador to the United Nations, who was accompanying Haley on her visit.
“’Finish Them’. This is what my friend the former ambassador Nikki Haley wrote,” Danon said in his post that showed a kneeling Haley writing on a shell with a purple marker pen.
Haley was a hawkish UN envoy under Donald Trump, and her term overlapped with Danon.
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on the latest Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Haley, 52, abandoned her White House bid in March after heavy defeats in Republican primary contests to Trump, and last week said that she would vote for him in the election.
Trump has ruled her out of contention to be his vice president, but she is a potential presidential runner in 2028.
The White House said Tuesday that President Joe Biden has no plans to change his Israel policy following a deadly weekend strike on Rafah but that he is not turning a “blind eye” to the plight of Palestinian civilians.


White House says still opposes Ukraine using US arms against Russia

Updated 29 May 2024
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White House says still opposes Ukraine using US arms against Russia

WASHINGTON: The White House on Tuesday rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s pleas for an end to restrictions on Kyiv using US-supplied arms to strike Russian territory.

“There’s no change to our policy at this point. We don’t encourage or enable the use of US-supplied weapons to strike inside Russia,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a briefing.


Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’

Updated 29 May 2024
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Prosecutor urges jury to convict Trump, citing ‘powerful evidence’

NEW YORK: Donald Trump engaged in “conspiracy and a cover-up” to hide from voters that he had paid hush money to a porn star, prosecutors told a jury Tuesday in closing arguments at the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Less than six months before an election in which Trump is seeking to return to the White House, the stakes riding on the verdict are high — both for the 77-year-old personally and for the country.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, afraid that her account of an alleged sexual encounter could doom his 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass delivered the summation for the prosecution after Trump’s defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, called for his acquittal, insisting the case against the former president was based on lies.

Steinglass said Daniels’s story about her 2006 tryst with the married Trump was the motive for the alleged crime, but the “case at its core is about a conspiracy and a cover up” on the eve of an election.

“The people have presented powerful evidence of the defendant’s guilt,” he said.

Blanche told the jury that Trump was “innocent.” The only outcome should be a “very quick and easy not guilty verdict.”

Cohen, the one-time Trump fixer who became the star prosecution witness, was motivated by “outright hatred” for his former boss, Blanche said.

“He told you a number of things on that witness stand that were lies, pure and simple,” he said.

Blanche said Trump was busy “running the country” when the reimbursements were made to Cohen and he did not closely inspect all the invoices that came across his desk.

“There was no intent to defraud and beyond that there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election,” Blanche said.

But Steinglass countered that there was a mountain of corroborating evidence in addition to Cohen’s testimony.

“They want to make this case about Michael Cohen,” he said. “This case is about Donald Trump and whether he should be accountable for causing false entries in his own business records and whether he did that to cover up his own election violations.”

Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom, Trump called it a “very dangerous day for America.”

“We have a rigged court case that should have never been brought,” he said as three of his five children — Don Jr, Eric and Tiffany — stood behind him.

The 12 anonymous jurors were to start deliberations as early as Wednesday.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden and the verdict will inject new tension into the White House race.

Speaking on behalf of the Biden campaign outside court, legendary actor Robert De Niro berated Trump as a “clown” intent on destroying the country.

The first former or sitting president under criminal indictment, Trump faces charges ranging from the relatively minor hush money case to accusations he took top secret documents and tried to overthrow the 2020 election.

The New York case, which featured more than 20 witnesses over five weeks and gripping testimony by Daniels and Cohen, is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from appearing on the ballot in November.

Trump chose not to testify in his defense.

Instead, he used his trips to court to stage tirades against “corrupt” Judge Juan Merchan, and to claim the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires the jury to be unanimous. Just one holdout means a hung jury and a mistrial, although prosecutors could seek a new trial.


Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

Updated 29 May 2024
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Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s red lines over Israel’s assault on Rafah have kept shifting, but the US president faces growing pressure to take a firmer stance after a deadly strike in the Gazan city.

Despite global outrage over the attack in which 45 people were killed, the White House insisted on Tuesday that it did not believe Israel had launched the major operation that Biden has warned against.

John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman, said that Biden had been consistent and was not “moving the stick” on what defined an all-out military offensive by key ally Israel.

But Biden faces a difficult balancing act both domestically and internationally over Gaza, especially in a year when the 81-year-old Democrat is locked in an election battle with Donald Trump.

“Biden wants to appear tough on Rafah, and has really tried to be stern with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, but in an election year, his red lines are increasingly blurred,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the Soufan Group, told AFP.

“I think he’ll continue shifting those lines, ducking and weaving, largely in response to events on the ground.”

Facing US campus protests over his support for Israel, Biden said earlier this month that he would not supply Israel with weapons for a major military operation in Rafah, and he halted a shipment of bombs.

Yet he has since taken no action even as Israel has stepped up air attacks and, as of Tuesday, moved tanks into central Rafah.

Instead, the White House has largely retreated to arguing about what does, and does not, constitute an invasion.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week there was “no mathematical formula” and said that “what we’re going to be looking at is whether there is a lot of death and destruction.”

At the White House on Tuesday, his colleague Kirby faced intense questioning over the Israeli strike, which sparked a fire at a displaced persons camp in which dozes of people burned to death.

Kirby said the deaths were “heartbreaking” and “horrific” but again said there would be no change in policy toward Israel.

“We have not seen them smash into Rafah,” he said.

“We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops, in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground.”

But internationally the pressure is growing on Biden, a self-described Zionist who has stuck by Netanyahu despite deep disagreements since the war began with the October 7 Hamas attack.

Questions are mounting over how long the United States can tolerate an Israeli assault on Rafah when the International Court of Justice — the UN’s top court, of which both the US and Israel are members — ordered it to stop.

Political pressure is also mounting on Biden at home.

Protests against his support for Israel have roiled university campuses across the United States, while many on the left wing of his Democratic Party also oppose his stance.

Republicans however have assailed Biden over what they say is his faltering support for Israel, with US House Speaker Mike Johnson inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.

“It is indeed a difficult balancing act,” Gordon Gray, a former US ambassador who is now a professor at George Washington University, told AFP.

“Threading the proverbial needle — as the Biden administration is apparently seeking to do — will only disappoint voters who feel strongly about the issue one way or another.”

Gray however said he believed Biden’s decades-old support for Israel meant he would unlikely change his position, saying he was a “rare politician who is acting out of genuine conviction rather than for his own electoral benefit.”