Russia advances in East Ukraine | Daily News

Russia advances in East Ukraine

‘March for Our Lives’ to control US gun violence.
‘March for Our Lives’ to control US gun violence.

Russia is reportedly continuing its advances in the East of Ukraine. The fighting now is centred on two sister cities on opposite sides of the Seversky Donets River, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Ukrainian fighters are almost completely encircled at Sievierodonetsk. There are rising fears in the West that Russia could redefine its war aims, announce that it has achieved victory and attempt to engineer a close to the fighting.

Another fear in the West is if Russia is able to consolidate some of its gains in the East, US officials increasingly fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin may eventually be able to use that territory as a staging ground to push further into Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a joint statement with European Commission President Ursula in Kyiv, Ukraine June 11, 2022 said “I am sure that if Ukraine is not strong enough, they will go further,” in a bid to urge the West to send more weapons faster. “We have shown to them our strength. And it is important for this strength to be also demonstrated together with us by our Western partners as well.”Western military aid, he said, “has to come quicker” if Ukraine's allies want to stymie Russia's territorial ambitions.

More US weapons

President Biden on Wednesday announced a further US$1 billion in weapons and aid for Ukraine, as the United States and its allies met to craft a response to Ukraine’s increasingly urgent calls for advanced arms to beat back Russia’s invasion.

The package, detailed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III after a meeting with allies at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, includes more long-range artillery, anti-ship missile launchers and more rounds for howitzers and for a sophisticated American rocket system on which Ukrainians are currently being trained. Overall, the United States has now committed about US$ 5.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 24.

Biden said in a statement that he had told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine about the new weapons during a 40-minute call Wednesday morning. Zelensky and his aides have recently ramped up public pressure on the West to supply vastly more of the sophisticated armaments it has already sent, questioning their allies’ commitment to the Ukrainian cause and insisting that nothing else can stop the inexorable, brutal Russian advance in Eastern Ukraine.

European leaders

Three European leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who arrived in Ukraine on Thursday to deliver “a message of European unity” met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

The leaders visited Irpin on Thursday, a battle-damaged suburb of Ukraine's capital, in a show of support for the country at war with Russia.

The European leaders arrived in the town North of Kyiv, where residential buildings and civilian infrastructure remain damaged following Russian troops’ attempts early in the invasion to capture the capital.

Kyiv has criticized France, Germany and to a lesser extent Italy for alleged foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, accusing them of being slow to deliver weapons.

Ukrainian officials have been urgently asking for more weapons to fend off Russian advances in the South and the East, an appeal aimed at the West as French President Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travelled to Kyiv.

Gun Violence - US Protests

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in hundreds of protests across the country last Saturday to push lawmakers to take action on gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.

Protesters have turned out to more than 450 rallies nationwide, with the largest gathering taking place in Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser drew loud cheers from the crowd there as she called for common sense gun laws, including mandatory background checks and a ban on assault rifles.

“We don't have to live like this,” she said, adding that people in other countries “don't live like this.”

The rallies were organised by March for Our Lives, a youth-driven organisation first created by students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

In Parkland, where the movement began, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Pine Trails Park Amphitheater Saturday morning to demand background checks for all gun sales, the implementation of “red-flag” laws and an increase in the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21.

As talks on gun restrictions continue on Capitol Hill, the House passed a “red-flag” bill Thursday that would allow a judge to take firearms away from individuals who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others. The legislation, which drew five Republican votes, is viewed as having a greater chance of advancing than some of the other bills in the evenly split Senate.

New Senate Unity

A bipartisan group of US senators on Sunday proposed steps to curb gun violence following devastating mass shootings in Texas and New York, but the limited measures fall far short of the President's calls for change.

The shootings in May -- one at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 young children and two teachers, and another at a New York supermarket that left 10 Black people dead -- have piled pressure on politicians to take action.

The new proposals include tougher background checks for gun buyers under 21, increasing resources for states to keep weapons out of the hands of people deemed a risk, and cracking down on illegal gun purchases.

“Today, we are announcing a common sense, bipartisan proposal to protect America's children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” the group of 20 Democratic and Republican lawmakers said in a statement. “Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can't purchase weapons.”

The senators also called for increased investment in mental health services and school safety resources, as well as including domestic violence convictions and restraining orders in the national background check database.

President Joe Biden praised the announcement and urged lawmakers to pass it quickly, while making clear that the proposals do not go far enough.

The President had pushed for more substantive reforms, including a ban on assault rifles -- which were used in both the Texas and New York shootings -- or at least an increase in the age at which they can be purchased. He had also urged lawmakers to ban high-capacity magazines, mandate safe storage of firearms, and allow gun manufacturers to be held liable for crimes committed with their products.

Frequent mass shootings have led to widespread outrage in the United States, where a majority of people support tighter gun laws, but opposition from many Republican lawmakers and voters has long been a hurdle to major changes. A strong supporter of gun rights is the National Rifle Association, which has been weakened by scandals and was hit by a lawsuit from New York State's Attorney General, but it still wields considerable influence. “The media, leftist politicians, and gun-hating activists are bullying NRA members and gun owners because they want us to give up. We won't bend a knee,” the lobby tweeted on Saturday.

China - Taiwan

China will “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwanese Independence, the country's defence minister vowed Sunday, stoking already soaring tensions with the United States over the island.

The superpowers are locked in a growing war of words over the self-ruled, democratic island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory awaiting reunification. Frequent Chinese aerial incursions near Taiwan have raised the diplomatic temperature, and on Saturday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin accused Beijing of “destabilizing” military activity in a speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue Security Summit.

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe hit back in a fiery address at the same event, saying Beijing had “no choice” but to fight if attempts are made to separate Taiwan from China.

“We will fight at all costs, and we will fight to the very end,” he said. “No one should ever underestimate the resolve and the ability of the Chinese Armed Forces to safeguard its territorial integrity.”

“Those who pursue Taiwanese Independence in an attempt to split China will definitely come to no good end,” he added.

Wei urged Washington to “stop smearing and containing China... stop interfering in China's internal affairs and stop harming China's interests”.

But he also struck a more conciliatory tone at points, calling for a “stable” China-US relationship, which he said was “vital for global peace”.

During his address, Austin stressed the importance of “fully open lines of communication with China's defense leaders” in avoiding miscalculations.

Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese military aircraft incursions into the island's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

President Joe Biden, during a visit to Japan last month, appeared to break decades of US policy when, in response to a question, he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China.

The White House has since insisted its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene had not changed.

The dispute is just the latest between Washington and Beijing, who have clashed over everything from the South China Sea to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

China's expansive claims to the sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, have stoked tensions with rival claimants, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Minister Wei insisted Sunday that China respects freedom of navigation in the seas, and took a veiled swipe at Washington. “Some big power has long practiced navigation hegemony on the pretext of freedom of navigation,” he said. “It has flexed its muscles by sending warships and warplanes on a rampage in the South China Sea.”

The United States and China have also been at loggerheads over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Washington accusing Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow.

Rwanda Flight - Out

A first flight carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of a controversial UK policy was canceled on Tuesday in an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government.

The number of those due to be put on the flight had dwindled from an original 130 to seven on Tuesday, and finally none thanks to a last-minute ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was disappointed that “legal challenge and last-minute claims” meant the plane did not take off but vowed to pursue the heavily criticized policy. “We will not be deterred,” she said in a statement.

“Our legal teams are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.”

The grounding was thanks to an ECHR ruling that at least one of the asylum seekers should stay in Britain as there were no guarantees for his legal future in Rwanda.

Patel called the ECHR intervention “very surprising” and vowed that “many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next”.

The flight cancellation is an embarrassment for Johnson’s Conservative Government, after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted the Kigali-bound plane would leave, no matter how many people were on board. “There will be people on the flights and if they’re not on this flight, they will be on the next flight,” Truss told Sky News earlier Tuesday.

The ECHR issued an urgent interim measure to prevent the deportation of an Iraqi man booked on the flight as he may have been tortured and his asylum application was not completed.

The Strasbourg-based court said the expulsion should wait until British courts have taken a final decision on the legality of the policy, set for July.

The conservative Daily Mail and Daily Express placed the blame in the hands of “meddling judges in Strasbourg”, expressing anger at what they called the “abuse of the legal system”.

The left-leaning Daily Mirror, meanwhile, slammed the government’s “cruel farce” and the “chaos” the policy had provoked.

Rights group Care4Calais tweeted that the same measure could be applied to the others set to be transported to Rwanda.

Record numbers of migrants have made the perilous Channel crossing from Northern France, heaping pressure on the government in London to act after it promised to tighten borders after Brexit.

More than 10,000 have crossed to the UK on the channel since the start of the year.

Legal challenges in recent days had failed to stop the deportation policy, which the two top clerics in the Church of England and 23 Bishops described as “immoral” and “shames Britain”. “They (migrants) are the vulnerable that the Old Testament calls us to value,” Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell wrote in a letter to The Times. “We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard the international law—which protects the right to claim asylum.”

It was reported last weekend that Queen Elizabeth II’s heir, Prince Charles, had privately described the government’s plan as “appalling”.

In Kigali, Rwanda, government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told reporters it was an “innovative programme” to tackle “a broken global asylum system”. “We don’t think it is immoral to offer a home to people,” she told a news conference.

Johnson has told his senior ministers the policy was “the right thing to do”.

The government in Kigali has rejected criticism that Rwanda is not a safe country and that serious human rights abuses were rife. But Rwandan opposition parties have questioned whether the resettlement scheme will work given high youth unemployment rates.

EU vs UK - Northern Ireland

The European Commission launched new legal action against Britain on Wednesday, accusing London of putting peace in Northern Ireland at risk by trying to overhaul the post-Brexit trade deal.

“The UK Government tabled legislation confirming its intention to unilaterally break international law,” EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said.

“More precisely to break an agreement that protects peace and stability in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law, as well. So let's call a spade a spade. This is illegal.”

On Monday, the British Government introduced legislation to rip up post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland, in an attempt to override the EU withdrawal treaty that it had signed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Government insists it is not breaking international law, citing a “necessity” to act to restore Northern Ireland's power-sharing institutions.

But Brussels rejected this argument, and Sefcovic said that legal action would be taken, with two new cases joining those the commission had suspended.

Sefcovic said the EU would revive a case it launched last year to control the export of certain food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“If the UK doesn't reply within two months, we may take them to the Court of Justice,” he warned.

“Second, we are launching two new infringements against the UK,” he said, announcing cases that could see the British Government brought before the European Court of Justice.

“One for failing to carry out the necessary controls at the border control posts in Northern Ireland by ensuring adequate staffing and infrastructure.”

“And one for failing to provide the EU with essential trade statistics data to enable the EU to protect its single market.”

Johnson's Government has said it would still prefer a negotiated outcome with the European Union to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol. But it accuses Brussels of failing to engage on its concerns about measures to control goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Brussels counters that, with Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market, European law must ultimately apply to goods arriving in the territory.

And Sefcovic says that attempts to negotiate a compromise with Britain within the terms of the agreement Johnson himself hailed and signed have been met with “radio silence” since February.

The spat comes at a bad time for the UK economy, with inflation at 40-year highs and rising household bills that have left many Britons struggling to make ends meet.

But there are economic headwinds in the European Union too, and warnings that the West must not fall out over trade when trying to present a united front against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Drink less tea - Pakistan

Pakistanis have been urged to drink less tea to keep the economy afloat, as the world's largest tea importer grapples with soaring inflation and a fast-depreciating rupee.

The country's Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, on Tuesday told reporters that Pakistanis could reduce their tea consumption by “one or two cups” per day as imports are putting additional financial strain on the government.

“The tea we import is imported by taking a loan,” Iqbal said, adding businesses should also close earlier to save electricity.

The South Asian nation of 220 million is the world's largest importer of tea, buying more than US$ 640 million worth in 2020, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Pakistan has been facing severe economic challenges for months, leading to an increase in the prices of food, gas and oil.

Meanwhile, its foreign currency reserves are declining rapidly. Funds held by the central bank fell from US$ 16.3 billion at the end of February to just above US$ 10 billion in May, according to Reuters -- a more than US$ 6 billion drop and enough to cover the cost of two months of its imports.

Many in Pakistan took to social media to ridicule Iqbal's plea, saying cutting tea consumption would do little to ease the country's economic woes.

Last week, the government unveiled a fresh US$ 47 billion budget for 2022-23 in a bid to convince the IMF to restart the US$ 6 billion bailout deal, agreed by both parties in 2019.

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