Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with AFP at the Presidential Office in Kyiv on May 17, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with AFP at the Presidential Office in Kyiv on May 17, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

  • Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal told him Russian President Putin cannot be trusted
  • Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview with AFP on Friday rejected a French call for an Olympic truce this summer, saying it could just help Russia move its troops and equipment.

In an interview with AFP on Friday, Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal and told him: “Let’s be honest... Emmanuel, I don’t believe it.”
“Who can guarantee that Russia will not use this time to bring its forces to our territory?” Zelensky said, adding: “First of all, we don’t trust Putin.”
“We are against any truce that plays into the hands of the enemy,” he said.
“If it’s a truce, an Olympic truce for the duration of the Olympics, a land truce, they will have an advantage,” he said, explaining that there was “a risk that they will bring heavy equipment to our territory and no one will be able to stop them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer.
Asked during a visit to China whether he backed Macron’s idea, Putin said: “I think these Olympic principles, including the ‘Olympic truce’ are very right.”
But he added: “Today’s international sporting officials are themselves disobeying the principles of the Olympic charter.”
He accused sports bodies of “not allowing our athletes to perform at the games with our banner, flag and our national music, our anthem.”
“They are committing violations against us and demand fulfilment from us. Dear friends: we won’t get far that way. No one has ever come to an agreement that way,” Putin said.
Macron had restated on Friday his idea of “an Olympic truce so that Russia ceases its current operations” in Ukraine.
Macron also thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping last week for backing the idea of a truce in all conflicts, including Ukraine, during the Paris Olympics.

Only 25 percent of needed air defense
Zelensky also said his country needed over a hundred aircraft to counter Russian air power and said Ukraine only had a quarter of the air defenses it needs.
His country has faced a surge of devastating attacks as the war stretches into its third year, leading Kyiv to double down on pleas to strengthen its depleted air defenses.
“Today we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I’m talking about air defense,” Zelensky said.
Russia currently holds an advantage in the air, which limits Ukraine’s ability to protect cities and hold the front line.
To combat sustained aerial and ground assaults, Ukrainian officials have called for more support.
“So that Russia does not have air superiority, our fleet should have 120 to 130 modern aircraft... to defend the sky against three hundred (Russian) aircraft,” Zelensky said.
He also said the fighter jets were needed “to have parity” with Russia.
His comments came just weeks after the US Congress finally approved a $61-billion financial aid package for Ukraine following months of political wrangling.
Zelensky called for some of the assistance to be delivered.
“Can we have three (billion) to get two (Patriot) systems in Kharkiv region, and no bombs will fall on the heads of the military,” he said.


Extremists from Africa’s Sahel have crossed into Nigeria’s north, a new report says. A lot is at stake

Updated 9 sec ago
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Extremists from Africa’s Sahel have crossed into Nigeria’s north, a new report says. A lot is at stake

  • Extremists believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda have in the last year crossed over from Benin’s hard-hit northern region and settled in Kainji Lake National Park
  • Clingendael Institute report: ‘A link between Lake Chad and the Sahel is a major opportunity for Al-Qaeda and Daesh to boast about their profiles as leaders of global extremism’
ABUJA, Nigeria: Extremist fighters who had long operated in Africa’s volatile Sahel region have settled in northwestern Nigeria after crossing from neighboring Benin, a report said Wednesday, the latest trend in the militants’ movements to wealthier West African coastal nations.
The extremists believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda have in the last year crossed over from Benin’s hard-hit northern region and settled in Kainji Lake National Park, one of Nigeria’s largest, where other armed groups have also gained access, according to the report by the Clingendael Institute think tank, which has done extensive research in the Sahel.
Residents close to the park told The Associated Press that the facility, which holds one of West Africa’s fast-declining lion populations, has been closed for more than a year because of security threats from armed groups attacking neighboring villages and roads.
“Before, it was like a tourism center (but) now, people find it difficult to pass through there,” said John Yerima, who lives near the park in New Bussa town. “You cannot enter that road (leading to the park) now. It is dangerous seriously.”
The security situation at the 5,300-square kilometer (2,000-square mile) park in Niger state and along the nearby border with Benin is “getting out of hand” and is “a much more explosive situation than we had anticipated,” said Kars de Bruijne, one of the authors of the report and a senior research fellow at the institute.
The “sustained presence” of the armed groups in the park is the first sign of a connection between Nigeria’s homegrown extremists that have launched a decadelong insurgency in its northern region, and Al-Qaeda-linked militants from the Sahel, the vast arid expanse south of the Sahara Desert, Bruijne said.
Their presence offers an opportunity for the extremists to claim large-scale success in both countries, already wracked by deadly attacks in recent years, he added.
Known as a global hot spot for violent extremism, the Sahel region’s worsening security crisis comes as military coups are toppling democratic governments. As the military governments struggle to contain the violence, they are increasingly severing security with traditional partners France and the United States and turning to Russia for support.
In northwest Nigeria, security analysts have in the past warned that the region’s remote territories, where the government is largely absent but have rich mineral resources and high poverty levels, present an opportunity for expansion for extremist groups that had operated mainly in the Sahel, as well as the Daesh group, whose fighters hold sway in the Lake Chad basin.
“A link between Lake Chad and the Sahel is a major opportunity for Al-Qaeda and Daesh to boast about their profiles as leaders of global extremism,” the report said.
There are also concerns from conservationists that the presence of armed groups in the park could further threaten the remaining lions whose populations have declined as a result of climate change and poaching.
“The security situation has become top of the list when it comes to the concerns about the lion populations in Nigeria,” said Stella Egbe, senior conservation manager at the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.
The Clingendael report said it is unclear what the motive of the Sahel extremists in the park is and what their relationship with other armed groups there will be. Security analysts say it offers opportunities for logistics and more influence amid booming illegal trade across the porous border.
“The Sahelian extremists potentially can try to use northwestern Nigeria as a place for fundraising, for logistics and to try to influence the extremist groups there as part of their own competition,” said James Barnett, a fellow at the Hudson Institute whose works in northwestern Nigeria were cited in the report.
Across many villages in Nigeria’s northwest, banditry — not extremist fighters — remains the major security threat, Barnett said.
The bandits have on a few occasions in the past collaborated with extremist fighters as two separate groups in carrying out attacks. But even in rare collaborations, he said, there can be “very deadly consequences.”

Canada declares Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group

Updated 42 min 14 sec ago
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Canada declares Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group

  • “Our government has made the decision to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said
  • Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, noting that Ottawa broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran several years ago, urged Canadians against travel to Iran

OTTAWA: Ottawa on Wednesday listed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity while calling on Canadians in the Islamic country to leave.
“Our government has made the decision to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity under the Criminal Code,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told a news conference.
Flanked by Canada’s foreign and justice ministers, he accused the Iranian regime of “support for terrorism” and “having consistently displayed disregard for human rights both inside and outside of Iran, as well as a willingness to destabilize the international rules-based order.”
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, noting that Ottawa broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran several years ago, urged Canadians against travel to Iran.
“For those who are in Iran right now. It’s time to come back home,” she added.
The terrorism listing bars members of the Guards from entering Canada and Canadians from having any dealings with individual members or the group. Any assets the Guards or its members hold in Canada may also be seized.
Iranian expats and families of the victims of Flight PS752, which was downed by Iran shortly after takeoff from Tehran in January 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, have long pressed Ottawa to designate the militia as a terrorist entity.
MPs last month unanimously voted to do so.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration had, until now, expressed a reluctance, explaining that a terror listing could be too broad and inadvertently impact Iranians in Canada opposed to the regime.
The Canadian blacklist includes nearly 80 entities including Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Daesh group and the Proud Boys, a North American neo-fascist militant group.
Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, a branch of the Guards, as a terrorist entity, and in 2022 permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including members of the Guards.
The United States listed the Guards as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019.
Earlier this month, the European Union also sanctioned the Guards for allegedly supplying drones to Russia and its allies in the Middle East.
The decision to add the Guards to Canada’s terror list comes amid tensions between Ottawa and Tehran. Canada and other nations have sued Iran at the International Court of Justice over the downing of Flight PS752.
Tehran has claimed a missile strike on the aircraft was carried out by mistake.
Ahead of the press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland described the Iran regime as “brutal, repressive, theocratic and misogynist.”


One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date

Updated 19 June 2024
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One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date

  • The arrest came after the Gambling Commission contacted the force
  • The commission confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election“

LONDON: One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s police bodyguards has been arrested over alleged bets on the date of Britain’s national election made before it was announced, authorities said Wednesday.
The Metropolitan Police force said that a constable in the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
The arrest came after the Gambling Commission contacted the force. The commission, which regulates the gambling industry, confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
Sunak announced May 22 that an election for Parliament would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and the announcement took many people in Sunak’s governing Conservative Party by surprise. Most had assumed the election would be held in the fall.
Betting is a popular activity in the UK, with bookmakers offering odds on everything from sports to elections and the winners of literary prizes. Cheating by acting on inside information is a criminal offense.
The arrested officer was released on bail pending further inquiries and has been removed from duty while the force conducts its own investigation. The officer was not named. British police usually do not identify suspects until they are charged.
Last week Sunak aide Craig Williams, who is running to be reelected to Parliament, acknowledged he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100 pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Williams said the regulator was making “some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these.”
“I don’t want to be a distraction from the campaign, I should have thought through how it looked,” he said.


Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads "Free Palestine" at his apartment in Havana.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

  • Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students
  • Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974

HAVANA: Thousands of miles from Gaza, medical student Samar Alghoul is supposed to be living her dream in Cuba, where she and hundreds of other Palestinians have been given the opportunity to study for free.
But, like the Palestinian diaspora all around the world, she is ridden with anxiety watching the decimation of her home from afar.
The 21-year-old lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family’s side, even if it means running toward war.
“It would be easier for me to be with them than to have all these thoughts,” of not knowing “what they drink, what they eat, where they sleep,” Alghoul said of her mother, two brothers and sister who live in the Gaza Strip.
She said her mother tells her: “We are proud of you, we are proud to have someone outside of Gaza who is studying medicine.”
Alghoul is one of 247 Palestinian students, 75 of them from Gaza, who have received a scholarship from the Cuban government, according to figures from Palestinian ambassador Akram Samhan.
Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students. Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974, said the ambassador.
Whether studying, living abroad, or staying in refugee camps in the Middle East, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are watching the destruction wrought back home with horror.
The conflict began on October 7 when the Hamas militant group attacked Israel, leaving 1,194 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
Alghoul says her family, who lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, has had to move multiple times to flee bombing and is currently in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah.
“They open WhatsApp, send me a message, ‘We’re fine,’ and we don’t know when we’ll have more news,” Alghoul said in Spanish. Like all foreign students, she took intensive language classes when she arrived in Cuba in 2022.
Motee Almashar, 24, from southern Rafah told AFP that he and his Palestinian friends are trying to get back to normal life “to relieve some stress.”
But it’s not easy.
“As soon as you pick up your phone, you see the news,” he said.
Almashar is also too far away to be of much comfort to his mother, devastated after bombing in Rafah last month led to the deaths of his cousins, three uncles, aunt and grandmother.
The conflict has also impacted the students’ ability to make ends meet in Cuba, as they are no longer able to receive money from relatives in Gaza.
Ambassador Samhan said he has launched a drive for donations among Palestinian groups in the United States and elsewhere to help support the students.
Mohammed Refat Almassri, 26, who has lost an uncle and eight cousins in the war, is in his final year of studies and torn over what to do next.
His father is an ambulance driver in the Gaza Strip and he knows there is “an urgent need for doctors,” but cannot afford a flight back home.


Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

Updated 19 June 2024
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Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

  • Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care“
  • The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said North Korea had hosted children of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine at a summer camp in the reclusive country.
Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care” during a state visit to Pyongyang to advance Russia’s relations with its closed neighbor as ties with Western countries are ruptured over Ukraine.
The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country which shut itself off from the world even more after the Covid pandemic.
“I want to thank our Korean friends and personally comrade Kim Jong Un for organizing the holiday of the children of killed participants of the special military operation in the Korean camp Songdowon,” Putin said, using Moscow’s term for its offensive on Ukraine.
“We highly value this genuine act of care and friendship,” he added.
Moscow has not said how many of its troops have been killed in more than two years of fighting in Ukraine, but the number is believed to be at least in the tens of thousands.
Putin said that the countries were developing tourism ties.
“For the summer season, tours are being organized, focused on holidaying in Korean seaside resorts,” he said.
Russia and North Korea share a short land border, near the city of Vladivostok.
As Moscow touts relations with Pyongyang, regional authorities in the Russian Primorye region bordering North Korea have also upped cooperation.
Local governor Oleg Kozhemyako touted sending children from the region to North Korean camps during a visit by Kim to Russia’s Far East last year, causing some alarm from parents.
In an address to schoolchildren, Kozhemyako said: “When we were like you, we would go there, they had good camps in Korea. That’s why maybe we will agree and send some (children) to pioneer camps... There is the sea there and it is warm.”
In April, he said some 200 school children were ready to holiday in Songdowon.
At the time, the head of the Russian League for a Safe Internet, Yekaterina Mizulina, said she was flooded with complaints from concerned local parents.