A Timeline of the Complicated Relations between Russia and North Korea

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)
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A Timeline of the Complicated Relations between Russia and North Korea

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Russia to see President Vladimir Putin. It will be the two isolated leaders' second meeting. Their governments have not confirmed an agenda, but US officials say Putin may ask for artillery and other ammunition for his war in Ukraine.
Such a request would mark a reversal of roles from the 1950-53 Korean War, when the Soviet Union provided ammunition, warplanes and pilots to support communist North Korea's invasion of the South, and the decades of Soviet sponsorship of the North that followed, The Associated Press said.
Despite their often aligning interests, relations between Russia and North Korea have experienced highs and lows. A timeline of some key events:
1945-1948 — Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula ends with Tokyo’s World War II defeat in 1945 but the peninsula is eventually divided into a Soviet-backed north and a US-backed south. The Soviet military installs future dictator Kim Il Sung, a former guerrilla leader who fought Japanese forces in Manchuria, into power in the North.
1950-1953 — Kim Il Sung’s forces execute a surprise attack on the South in June 1950, triggering the Korean War. The conflict brought in forces from the newly created People’s Republic of China, aided by the Soviet air force. Troops from South Korea, the United States and other countries under the direction of the United Nations battle to repulse the invasion. A 1953 armistice stops the fighting and leaves the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.
Mid-1950s through 1960s — The Soviet Union continues to provide economic and military assistance to North Korea, but their relations decline as Kim Il Sung violently purges pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions within the North’s leadership to consolidate his power. Moscow reduces its aid but does not cut it off until the end of the Cold War.
1970s — As a rivalry between the Soviet Union and China intensifies, North Korea pursues an “equidistance” policy that allows it to play the mutually hostile communist giants against each other to extract more aid from both. Pyongyang also attempts to reduce its dependency on Moscow and Beijing, but a series of policy failures following heavy borrowing from international financial markets push the North Korean economy into decades of disarray.
1980s — Following Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power, the Soviet Union begins to reduce aid to North Korea and to favor reconciliation with South Korea. Seoul also expands diplomatic relations with communist countries in Eastern Europe, leaving Pyongyang increasingly isolated.
1990s — The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union deprives North Korea of its main economic and security benefactor. The post-communist government in Moscow led by President Boris Yeltsin shows no enthusiasm for supporting North Korea with continued aid and subsidized trade. Moscow establishes formal diplomatic ties with Seoul in hopes of drawing South Korean investment and allows its Soviet-era military alliance with North Korea to expire. Kim Il Sung dies in 1994, and North Korea experiences a devastating famine later in the 1990s. The number of people to die in the mass starvation is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
Early 2000s — After his first election as president in 2000, Vladimir Putin actively seeks to restore Russia’s ties with North Korea. Putin visits Pyongyang in July of that year to meet with Kim Jong Il, the second-generation North Korean leader. The two issue joint criticism of US missile defense plans. The trip is seen as Russia's statement that it would work to restore its traditional domains of influence as the divergence between Moscow and the West over key security issues grows. Putin hosts Kim Jong Il for subsequent meetings in Russia in 2001 and 2002.
Mid-to-late 2000s — Despite warmer relations, Russia twice supports UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea over what was then a nascent nuclear weapons and missile program. Russia participates in talks aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security and economic benefits. The talks, which also involved the United States, China, South Korea and Japan, collapse in December 2008.
2011-2012 — Months after a summit with then-Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in August 2011, Kim Jong Il dies. His son, Kim Jong Un, succeeds him as North Korea's ruler. In 2012, Russia agrees to write off 90% of North Korea’s estimated $11 billion debt.
2016-2017 — Kim Jong Un accelerates the North's nuclear and missile tests. Russia supports stringent Security Council sanctions that include limiting oil supplies and cracking down on the country’s labor exports.
2018-2019 — Kim Jong Un initiates diplomacy with Washington and Seoul to leverage his nuclear program for economic benefits. He also tries to improve ties with traditional allies China and Russia to boost his bargaining power. After his second meeting with US President Donald Trump break down over US-led sanctions on the North, Kim Jong Un travels to the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for his first summit with Putin in April 2019. The leaders vow to expand cooperation, but the meeting doesn’t produce substantial results.
2022 — While using the distraction caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine to further ramp up its weapons tests, North Korea blames the United States for the conflict. Pyongyang claims the West’s “hegemonic policy” gave Putin justification to defend Russia by sending troops into the neighboring country. North Korea joins Russia and Syria in recognizing the independence of two Moscow-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine and hints at an interest in sending construction workers to those areas to help with rebuilding efforts. Russia and China block US-led efforts at the Security Council to strengthen sanctions on North Korea over its intensifying missile tests.
Sept, 12, 2023 — Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia to meet with Putin. He is expected to seek Russian economic aid and military technology in exchange for munitions to fuel Russia's war in Ukraine. The meeting follows Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu making a rare visit to North Korea in July and attending a massive military parade where Kim showcased long-range missiles designed to target the US mainland.



The Fall of an Enclave in Azerbaijan Stuns the Armenian Diaspora, Extinguishing a Dream

People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
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The Fall of an Enclave in Azerbaijan Stuns the Armenian Diaspora, Extinguishing a Dream

People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)
People hold a flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, as they take part in an anti-government rally in downtown Yerevan on September 25, 2023, following Azerbaijani military operations against Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by KAREN MINASYAN / AFP)

The swift fall of the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani troops and exodus of much of its population has stunned the large Armenian diaspora around the world. Traumatized by genocide a century ago, they now fear the erasure of what they consider a central and beloved part of their historic homeland.
The separatist ethnic Armenian government in Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday announced that it was dissolving and that the unrecognized republic will cease to exist by year’s end – a seeming death knell for its 30-year de-facto independence, The Associated Press said.
Azerbaijan, which routed the region’s Armenian forces in a lightning offensive last week, has pledged to respect the rights of the territory’s Armenian community. But by Thursday morning, 74,400 people – over 60% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population — had fled to Armenia, and the influx continues, according to Armenian officials.
Many in Armenia and the diaspora fear a centuries-long community in the territory they call Artsakh will disappear in what they call a new wave of ethnic cleansing. They accuse European countries, Russia and the United States – and the government of Armenia itself – of failing to protect ethnic Armenians during months of blockade of the territory by Azerbaijan’s military and in the lightning blitz earlier this month that defeated separatist forces.
Armenians say the loss is a historic blow. Outside the modern country of Armenia itself, the mountainous land was one of the only surviving parts of a heartland that centuries ago stretched across what is now eastern Türkiye, into the Caucasus region and western Iran.
Many in the diaspora had pinned dreams on it gaining independence or being joined to Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh was “a page of hope in Armenian history,” Narod Seroujian, a Lebanese-Armenian university instructor in Beirut, said Thursday.
“It showed us that there is hope to gain back a land that is rightfully ours ... For the diaspora, Nagorno-Karabakh was already part of Armenia.”
Hundreds of Lebanese Armenians on Thursday protested outside the Azerbajani Embassy in Beirut. They waved flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and burned pictures of the Azerbaijani and Turkish presidents. Riot police lobbed tear gas when they threw firecrackers at the embassy.
Ethnic Armenians have communities around Europe and the Middle East and in the United States. Lebanon is home to one of the largest, with an estimated 120,000 of Armenian origin, 4% of the population.
Most are descendants of those who fled the 1915 campaign by Ottoman Turks in which some 1.5 million Armenians died in massacres, deportations and forced marches. The atrocities, which emptied many ethnic Armenian areas in eastern Türkiye, are widely viewed by historians as genocide. Türkiye rejects the description of genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest during World War I.
In Bourj Hammoud, the main Armenian district in the capital Beirut, memories are still raw, with anti-Türkiye graffiti common on the walls. The red-blue-and-orange Armenian flag flies from many buildings.
“This is the last migration for Armenians,” said Harout Bshidikian, 55, sitting in front of an Armenian flag in a Bourj Hamoud cafe. “There is no other place left for us to migrate from.”
Azerbaijan says it is reuniting its territory, pointing out that even Armenia’s prime minister recognized that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. Though its population has been predominantly ethnic Armenian Christians, Turkish Muslim Azeris also have communities and cultural ties to the territory as well, particularly the city of Shusha, famed as a cradle of Azeri poetry.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Azerbaijan took parts of the area in a 2020 war. Now after this month’s defeat, separatist authorities surrendered their weapons and are holding talks with Azerbaijan on reintegration of the territory into Azerbaijan.
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank, said Nagorno-Karabakh had become “a kind of new cause” for an Armenian diaspora whose forebearers had suffered the genocide.
“It was a kind of new Armenian state, new Armenian land being born, which they projected lots of hopes on. Very unrealistic hopes, I would say,” he said, adding that it encouraged Karabakh Armenians to hold out against Azerbaijan despite the lack of international recognition for their separatist government.
Armenians see the territory as a cradle of their culture, with monasteries dating back more than a millennium.
“Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh has been a land for Armenians for hundreds of years,” said Lebanese legislator Hagop Pakradounian, head of Lebanon’s largest Armenian group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “The people of Artsakh are being subjected to a new genocide, the first genocide in the 21st Century.”
The fall of Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a reminder of the genocide, “it’s reliving it,” said Diran Guiliguian, an Armenian activist who is based in Madrid but holds Armenian, Lebanese and French citizenship.
He said his grandmother used to tell him stories of how she fled in 1915. The genocide “is actually not a thing of the past. It’s not a thing that is a century old. It’s actually still the case,” he said.
Seroujian, the instructor in Beirut, said her great-grandparents were genocide survivors, and that stories of the atrocities and dispersal were talked about at home, school and in the community as she grew up, as was the cause of Nagorno-Karabakh.
She visited the territory several times, most recently in 2017. “We’ve grown with these ideas, whether they were romantic or not, of the country. We’ve grown to love it even when we didn’t see it,” she said. “I never thought about it as something separate” from Armenia the country.
A diaspora group called Europeans for Artsakh plans a rally in Brussels next week in front of European Union buildings to denounce what they say are ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses by Azerbaijan and to call for EU sanctions on Azerbaijani officials. The rally is timed ahead of a summit of European leaders in Spain on Oct. 5, where the Armenian prime minister and Azerbaijani president are scheduled to hold talks mediated by the French president, German chancellor and European Council president.
In the United States, the Armenian community in the Los Angeles area – one of the world’s largest – has staged several protests trying to draw attention to the situation. On Sept. 19, they used a trailer truck to block a major freeway for several hours, causing major traffic jams.
Kim Kardashian, perhaps the most well known Armenian-American today, went on social media to urge President Joe Biden “to Stop Another Armenian Genocide.”
Several groups in the diaspora are collecting money for Karabakh Armenians fleeing their home. But Seroujian said many feel helpless.
“There are moments where personally, the family, or among friends we just feel hopeless,” she said. “And when we talk to each other we sort of lose our minds.


Syrian Beekeepers Battle Both War and Climate Change 

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
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Syrian Beekeepers Battle Both War and Climate Change 

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)
Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land in Rankus village near the capital Damascus on September 11, 2023 after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change. (AFP)

Syrian beekeeper Ibrahim Damiriya struggles to produce honey from his hives on parched land near the capital Damascus after years of war, economic collapse and worsening climate change impacts.

"The war bled us dry. We could barely keep our beekeeping business afloat, and then the insane weather made things worse," the 62-year-old in a beekeeping suit told AFP as he examined meagre honey stocks inside the hives.

Before Syria's conflict erupted in 2011, Damiriya owned 110 hives in Rankus, a village near Damascus that was once filled with apple orchards.

But now a combination of fighting, severe drought and a grueling economic crisis have left him with a mere 40 hives in semi-arid lands, decimating his honey yield.

Rankus was once renowned for its honey, but was hard hit by fighting between government forces and opposition factions that caused widespread destruction, pushing many residents to flee.

Damiriya can barely afford to tend to his hives, donated by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to help Syrian beekeepers.

"If we keep suffering from climate change and rising prices, I might have to abandon my profession," Damiriya said with a sigh.

Since 2011, Syria's war has killed more than half a million people and caused an acute economic crisis, exacerbated by severe Western sanctions.

Recent years have also battered Syria with heatwaves, low rainfall and more forest fires.

'Extreme weather'

A 2019 United Nations report found that fighting had practically wiped out hives, with bombs contaminating the environment and pesticide misuse and a proliferation of parasites speeding up their decline.

Syria used to be home to 635,000 hives before the war, but their numbers had dwindled to about 150,000 at the height of the conflict in 2016, said Iyad Daaboul, the Damascus-based president of the Arab Beekeepers Union.

Today that number has risen back up to 400,000, he said. However, the hives yield only 1,500 tons of honey per year -- half of the country's pre-war production.

Unusually cold springs and drought have had an adverse effect on the flowers that bees feed on.

"Extreme weather conditions have greatly affected bees, especially during spring -- the most important time in their life cycle," said Daaboul.

The number of beekeepers has nearly halved from 32,000 before the war to around 18,000 today, he said.

Another threat to the bees is the forest fires which have become more common as temperatures rise.

Fires "have destroyed more than 1,000 hives on Syria's coastal mountains and stripped bees of large foraging areas", Daaboul said.

'Unusually cold'

Rising temperatures and desertification have taken a toll on Syria's greenery, destroying many of the plants on whose flowers the bees feed and squeezing the once-thriving agriculture sector.

Damascus ICRC spokesperson Suhair Zakkout told AFP that "Syria's agricultural production has fallen by approximately 50 percent over the last 10 years" because of war and climate change.

Despite being one of the countries most badly affected by global warming, Syria has lacked the funds it needs to tackle environmental issues, Zakkout said.

Climate change has devastated farmer Ziad Rankusi's apple orchards, which have also been greatly thinned by illegal logging as people struggle to keep warm during the winter amid recurrent fuel shortages.

Rankusi, who is in his 50s, used to tend more than 1,000 trees on his land, but just 400 survive, and they are drying out in the heat.

"For about five years, we have had unprecedented droughts and desertification, and this year the spring was unusually cold. The fruit perished," said the farmer.

"When trees and flowers disappear, bees can no longer feed. They either migrate or die."


A Month after Prigozhin’s Suspicious Death, the Kremlin Is Silent on His Plane Crash and Legacy

A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
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A Month after Prigozhin’s Suspicious Death, the Kremlin Is Silent on His Plane Crash and Legacy

A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)
A portrait of the owner of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin decorates an informal street memorial near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. (AP)

Why Yevgeny Prigozhin's private jet plummeted into a field northwest of Moscow is still a mystery. The Russian military leaders he tried to oust with his armed rebellion remain in power. His mercenary army is under new management.

And President Vladimir Putin, whose authority was badly dented by the short-lived mutiny, seems as strong as ever, with Prigozhin's fiery death sending a chilling message to anyone challenging him.

A month after Prigozhin was killed in a suspicious plane crash, the Kremlin seems to be succeeding in keeping the demise of the profane and outspoken Wagner chief as low-key as possible — a strategy underlined by Putin's absence at his funeral and troops keeping the media from entering Porokhovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg for his Aug. 29 burial.

Prigozhin’s funeral was “the culmination of a covert operation aimed at his elimination,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. It was conducted under the strict oversight of security agencies, “shrouded in secrecy and involved deceptive tactics,” she noted.

Makeshift street memorials sprouted in several cities honoring the 62-year-old Prigozhin, but they have been quietly removed by authorities. Recruitment billboards for the Wagner Group had vanished shortly after the rebellion fizzled.

In a further indignity, someone stole a violin that was left on his grave, a nod to the mercenary group's namesake, German composer Richard Wagner. Another man tried but failed to steal a sledgehammer placed there — another Wagner symbol after the group boasted of using such a tool to beat traitors to death.

Now, a surveillance camera is mounted on a nearby tree and a 24-hour guard monitors Prigozhin's well-tended grave, which on Friday was covered in flowers and written tributes. Cemetery workers say there is a steady trickle of visitors.

FROM BAKHMUT SUCCESS TO MUTINY'S FAILURE Prigozhin's greatest wartime accomplishment — the Wagner-spearheaded capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in May after months of bloody combat — is under threat. Kyiv's troops are seeking to reclaim it in their counteroffensive in order to deal a psychological blow to Russia.

Still, the private army that once counted tens of thousands of troops is a precious asset the Kremlin wants to exploit, and Russian officials are pondering the possibility of sending some Wagner fighters back to Ukraine.

Prigozhin launched the June 23-24 rebellion, bent on ousting the Russian Defense Ministry's leadership that he blamed for mistakes in pressing the war in Ukraine. His mercenaries took over Russia's southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then rolled toward Moscow before abruptly halting the mutiny.

Putin denounced them as “traitors,” but the Kremlin quickly negotiated a deal ending the uprising in exchange for amnesty from prosecution. The mercenaries were offered a choice to retire from the service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Exactly two months after the rebellion's start, a plane carrying Prigozhin and his top lieutenants crashed on Aug. 23 while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing all 10 people aboard.

An investigation was launched but no findings have been released. Moscow rejected an offer from Brazil, where the Embraer business jet was built, to join the inquiry.

A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded an intentional explosion caused the crash, and Western officials have pointed to a long list of Putin foes who have been assassinated. The Kremlin called allegations he was behind the crash as an “absolute lie.”

The day after the crash, Putin gave a dry eulogy for Prigozhin in brief televised remarks, saying he had known him since the early 1990s. Prigozhin was “a man of difficult fate” who had “made serious mistakes in life,” he said, without displaying any emotion.

Asked last week why the official investigation hasn’t yielded any results, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded tersely that it’s a “difficult probe.”

AFTER THE CRASH, A RECKONING Despite any damage done to Putin by the rebellion, Prigozhin's death was a powerful signal to Russian elites about challenging his authority.

Russian officials, meanwhile, moved quickly to take control of the company’s personnel and assets.

Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov led a delegation to Syria, Libya, Central African Republic and other countries where Wagner has operated to tell their leaders that the Defense Ministry will take over the job.

“The death of Wagner’s leaders allows the Kremlin to establish control over the mercenaries in Africa,” said Africa expert Alexandra Fokina in a recent analysis. “Africa’s strategic importance for Russia is rising, and Moscow will likely try to ‘nationalize’ those assets without the loss of efficiency.”

That doesn't necessarily mean Wagner mercenaries in Africa will be placed under the control of the Defense Ministry. Instead, Fokina said the Kremlin could allow some of them to operate autonomously as a private entity under new, government-appointed leadership.

“By maintaining such hybrid model, Moscow would be able to continue using the mercenaries in the ‘gray zone,’ officially keeping a distance from Wagner’s activities in the region,” Fokina said.

Wagner’s African operations hinged heavily on personal contacts developed by Prigozhin and his lieutenants, links that could be broken if the Defense Ministry tries to take full control, she noted.

“Choosing an appointee from the ranks of ‘Russia instructors’ working in Africa would allow the Kremlin to rely on the existing channels of communication with the local leadership,” she said.

Whether all Wagner mercenaries come under the government's command or some are allowed to operate privately, Moscow is likely to retain its clout in Africa.

"Russia’s appeal as a security guarantor and military partner remains intact, irrespective of the fate of the Wagner Group,” Mathieu Droin and Tina Dolbaia wrote in an analysis published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In Belarus, the field camps that housed several thousand Wagner troops after the mutiny have shrunk following Prigozhin’s death. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said they could be offered contracts with his military.

Other Wagner forces could return to Ukraine under the auspices of Russia’s National Guard, according to messaging app channels linked to the mercenary group, although there is no official confirmation of such a plan.

PRIGOZHIN FOES STILL IN POWER — FOR NOW The military leaders Prigozhin cursed and castigated in profane videos last spring — Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov — remain in power and have effectively secured their positions despite his calls for their ouster.

“Shoigu and Gerasimov seem very much to have won,” said Mark Galeotti, a London-based Russia expert who heads the consulting firm Mayak Intelligence. “Their position was saved precisely by Prigozhin’s mutiny.”

He noted that while Shoigu and Gerasimov were “phenomenally unpopular figures within the military” and widely blamed for mishandling the war, they also are very useful to the Kremlin as a “lightning rod, attracting all the criticism, rather than Putin himself.”

Shoigu attended Putin's talks this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and accompanied Kim as he inspected Russia's nuclear-capable strategic bombers and a warship on a visit that fueled Western concerns of a possible deal for Moscow to tap Pyongyang's huge munitions arsenals for use in Ukraine.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, whom Prigozhin had mentioned as a possible replacement for Gerasimov, vanished from public view after the mutiny and eventually was dismissed as air force chief after a two-month investigation into his possible connection to the mutiny — a sign authorities worked methodically to uproot any dissent in the ranks.

Shoigu and Gerasimov also removed other senior officers who appeared too ambitious or defiant, including Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, commander of the 58th army in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region who was dismissed after speaking out about challenges faced by his troops amid Kyiv's counteroffensive.

Surovikin was appointed air defense coordinator for the Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of former Soviet nations. While it's a token job with no power or influence and clearly a humiliating demotion, the fact he wasn't booted from the military altogether signaled the investigation hadn’t implicated him in any serious wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Surovikin was seen in Algeria as part of a Russian military delegation.

Galeotti emphasized that despite the demotion, Surovikin has kept his rank. If Putin reshuffles the military leadership, he might return with a senior job.

“Surovikin is now in a position in which he has no power and no prestige but also no responsibilities. He can’t screw things up,” Galeotti said in a recent podcast.

A successor to Shoigu could make Surovikin a new chief of the General Staff, he said, adding: “They don’t have many truly able figures.”


Syrians Feel Growing Pressure from Türkiye’s Anti-Migrant Political Wave 

People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
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Syrians Feel Growing Pressure from Türkiye’s Anti-Migrant Political Wave 

People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)
People stroll at the main shopping and pedestrian street of Istiklal which is decorated with Turkish flags to mark the Victory Day, in Istanbul, Türkiye August 30, 2023. (Reuters)

Anti-migrant sentiment, economic woes and political pressures are leading some of the 3.3 millions Syrians living in Türkiye to plan a return to Syria or seek shelter in Europe, according to migrants interviewed by Reuters.

They are concerned that rhetoric against migrants may rear up in campaigning for March local elections, echoing efforts to tap into nationalist sentiments during May's general elections.

Many of those now living in Istanbul face a more immediate worry - authorities' Sept. 24 deadline for them to leave the city if they are registered in other Turkish provinces.

One 32-year-old Syrian said he is saving up to pay smugglers and plans to go to Belgium. Hardship caused by Türkiye’s rampant inflation and anti-migrant rhetoric motivated his decision.

"We are blamed and scapegoated for the worsening economy. Discrimination is rising. It is becoming impossible for us to live here," he told Reuters, declining to give his name for security reasons.

The 32-year-old is among those affected by Sunday's deadline because he was registered in southeastern Sanliurfa province.

According to rights groups, racist violence against Syrians is increasing and authorities have adopted a tougher policy on migrants not registered in Istanbul, stoking migrants' fears.

Another Syrian man, a 33-year-old teacher, said he could no longer afford to live in Türkiye after 10 years spent in Istanbul with his two children, with his expenses exceeding his income.

"I decided to return to Syria because of the bad financial situation in Türkiye. I know the situation is bad in Syria too but here it's worse for me," he said, declining to be named.

It was not possible to quantify the number of Syrians currently planning to leave for Europe or return to Syria.

Türkiye is home to 3.3 million Syrians with temporary protection permits, according to Turkish authorities. Istanbul has the highest Syrian population with more than 532,000.

While Syrians were assigned to provinces throughout Türkiye, many went to Istanbul due to more job opportunities. Authorities said it was unclear how many such people there were in the city.

Deadline to move

Adem Maarastawi, a 29-year-old Syrian activist working in Istanbul, is registered in central Türkiye’s Kirsehir province.

As Sept. 24 approaches, he fears being sent to Kirsehir.

"I struggled to build a life here. How can I rebuild my life from scratch in another city?" he said, adding that he looked for a job in more than 30 cities before settling in Istanbul.

Experts believe anti-migrant sentiment will dominate opposition campaigning for the March votes, as it did in the May elections, and worry this could lead to more physical and verbal violence against migrants including more social media hostility.

"Anti-migrant rhetoric is likely to rise before the March elections," said Deniz Sert, associate professor of international relations at Ozyegin University.

Local government expert Ali Mert Tascier said opposition parties are likely to use anti-migrant rhetoric, with municipalities being the main players in managing migrants.

During campaigning for the May elections, the main opposition CHP vowed to send Syrians back. It declined to comment on its migration perspective for the local votes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been fiercely critical of the opposition's stance, telling a conference this week that Türkiye’s hosting of refugees would continue unchanged.

However, ahead of the May elections, Erdogan played up his plans to repatriate a million Syrian refugees.

"We will continue to pursue our voluntary return policy. It is, however, inappropriate to use migrants for political gain," said Osman Nuri Kabaktepe, Istanbul head of Erdogan's AK Party.

But Maarastawi said he feared such campaigning would lead to a deterioration in the situation for migrants.

"I believe everything will just worsen for us as a result of more populist discourse during the local elections," he said.


After the Earthquake in Morocco, Tourists Grapple With the Ethics of Travel

A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
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After the Earthquake in Morocco, Tourists Grapple With the Ethics of Travel

A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
A damaged hotel in the town of Moulay Brahim, about 45 miles south of Marrakesh. Credit...Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Ceylan Yeginsu

Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations — Türkiye, Greece, Hawaii and, now, Morocco — have been ravaged by disaster this year, with earthquakes, wildfires and floods razing entire towns and villages, killing residents, and destroying or damaging cultural monuments. The series of catastrophic events has left many tourists in a conundrum over how to respond.

Those already in a country in the wake of a disaster debate whether they should stay or leave. Those with upcoming trips wonder if they should cancel. Can they and the revenue they bring in be of any real help, or will they be a burden? How appropriate is it to let tourism go on while a nation is in a state of collective mourning and rescue efforts are underway?

There are no easy answers, travel experts say.

Each disaster’s impact is unique, and while travelers are advised to follow the guidance of government officials in the aftermath of such events, local communities don’t always agree on the best course of action. After the Maui wildfires destroyed much of the town of Lahaina in August, killing at least 115 people, residents on the island, which depends on tourist dollars, clashed over the decision to allow tourism to continue while locals grieved for all that was lost.

In Morocco, however, where a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Atlas Mountains southwest of Marrakesh on Friday, killing thousands, the outlook is more unified. With the high tourism season underway and most of the destruction affecting rural areas far from tourist hot spots, many locals are eager for foreign visitors to keep coming so that they can support the economy and bring in funds for relief efforts.

“After Covid, the abandonment of tourists would be terrible for Marrakesh, where so many resources come from tourism,” said Mouna Anajjar, the editor in chief of I Came for Couscous, a local feature magazine. “Directly or indirectly, all the inhabitants are linked to this resource and would be terribly affected.”

Here’s what travelers faced with the prospect of visiting a country where devastation has struck should think about.

Is the place open for tourism?

Check official government guidance and local media reports to assess the situation on the ground. When the deadly wildfires swept through parts of Maui last month, the local authorities urged tourists to stay home. So far, the Moroccan government hasn’t issued any statements beyond the status of rescue efforts, and the country’s tourism office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The British Foreign Office advised its citizens planning to travel to the country to check with their tour providers about any disruptions.

While the US State Department has not updated its travel advisory to Morocco, it is a good idea to check the website before traveling to any country that has been struck by disaster.

Establish exactly where the disaster hit and which areas have been affected. When Greece was ravaged by wildfires in July and thousands of tourists were evacuated from the islands of Rhodes and Corfu, many tourists canceled their vacations, even those traveling to unaffected areas. The Greek tourism minister issued a response, highlighting that the majority of the country, including parts of the affected islands, remained safe for tourists.

When the earthquake struck Morocco on Friday, it was felt in many popular tourist destinations, including Marrakesh and the towns of Imsouane and Essaouira, but most of the damage is concentrated close to the epicenter in Al Haouz Province. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, most Morocco tours were canceled as operators scrambled to make critical safety assessments, making sure that all their clients and staff were accounted for and that tourists were not hindering rescue efforts.

But now, having established that the damage is localized in rural areas and following government guidance, most tours are up and running with some amended itineraries. Hotels have largely been unaffected, according to Morocco’s hotel association.

“There are areas inside the Marrakesh medina that have been damaged, some historical monuments are closed, but most areas inside the cities are totally OK to be visited,” said Zina Bencheikh, the managing director of Intrepid Travel’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, who was born in Marrakesh.

“The majority of the country is open, with airports, schools, hotels, shops and restaurants operating as normal under the shock of the incident.”

Intrepid Travel had 600 customers in Morocco on the night of the earthquake, and only 17 have cut their trips short. TUI, Europe’s largest travel operator, said that some of its itineraries were under review, but that the majority of its guests had decided to stay on after the company carried out safety inspections and chose to support keeping Morocco open.

As a tourist, will I be a burden on local communities?

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye in February, Turkish Airlines, the country’s national carrier, canceled dozens of flights across the country to open up resources for rescue efforts. During the Maui wildfires, airlines also canceled flights to Hawaii so that they could use the planes to fly passengers back to the mainland. Most of West Maui is still closed to tourists but is expected to reopen on Oct. 8.

In Morocco, the hardest-hit areas in the Atlas Mountains are currently cordoned off as rescue efforts are underway, and tourists are not advised to go into those areas. But tourism activities are encouraged in other areas of the country that haven’t been affected.

Hafida Hdoubane, a guide based in Marrakesh who takes visitors on hiking and trekking excursions, urged visitors to come, arguing that the danger from the earthquake had long passed and that the authorities in Marrakesh were carefully cordoning off any buildings showing signs of damage.

She said those who called to cancel their expeditions felt uneasy about vacationing in a country that had just experienced such devastation, but that locals did not share that view. “I think it’s best to come and show that life goes on,” she said. “What a mountain tourist can do to help is come, show that they are here and that they stand in solidarity.”

Should I change my behavior?

Most locals will not expect you to, but it is important to be receptive and mindful of the mood around you.

“The people of Morocco will say don’t switch Morocco off,” said Ms. Bencheikh of Intrepid Travel.

Ángel Esquinas, the regional director of the Barceló Hotel Group, which has properties in Marrakesh, Casablanca and Fez, said there was no immediate need for tourists to cut their trips short unless they felt it necessary.

“It is absolutely acceptable for tourists to continue with their planned activities, such as going on tours, lounging by the pool or enjoying nightlife. Morocco remains a vibrant and welcoming destination,” he said. “However, we encourage visitors to be mindful of their surroundings and exercise respect for the local communities’ particular circumstances. It’s important to strike a balance between supporting the local economy and not overwhelm the community.”

Cassandra Karinsky, a co-founder of Plus-61, a popular restaurant in Marrakesh, said she reopened a day after the earthquake to provide an environment for locals to unite at a difficult time. “We’ve had a lot of cancellations, but we’re coming together now to raise money and support our local communities and it’s starting to get busy again.”

She said the mood was more somber than usual and people were still in shock, but that tourists were mindful and respectful of locals.

“People still need to eat, and every day there’s a more optimistic atmosphere to come together to help and move forward,” she said.

What can I do to help?

Visiting a country can be a big support to disaster relief efforts, as many locals depend on tourism revenue for their livelihoods. In Morocco, tourism accounts for 7.1 percent of the gross domestic product and is a crucial source of income for low- to middle-income families. Many restaurants and hotels have started funding campaigns to help their employees and their families in the most affected areas.

You can donate to some of the aid organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that are responding to the disaster. And Intrepid Foundation, the travel company’s charity, has begun an earthquake appeal campaign for Morocco to support efforts to provide food, shelter, clean water and medical assistance to local communities.

The New York Times


Libya Flood Survivors Endure Unbearable Wait for Missing Relatives

This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
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Libya Flood Survivors Endure Unbearable Wait for Missing Relatives

This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)
This picture taken on September 19, 2023 shows a view of mud-covered furniture in the house of Mohamed Badr, 23, a survivor of the flooding who lost his brother and whose house was engulfed with mud in the recent deadly flash floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (AFP)

In Libya's flood-hit city of Derna, the Mediterranean Sea breeze mixes with the nauseating stench of human remains buried under the mud-caked rubble.

Ten days after a tsunami-scale flash flood ripped through the coastal city, razing entire neighborhoods, many of the traumatized survivors are still waiting to learn the fate of missing relatives.

Few of them have any hope of seeing their loved ones alive.

Bodies are still trapped inside shattered buildings and below the mountains of mud now turning into choking dust, as emergency response crews keep up their grim search.

Untold numbers of people were swept away by the raging waters and into the sea when two upstream dams burst late at night after Storm Daniel's torrential rains lashed the area on September 10.

Hundreds of bodies have since washed back onto the shores.

The official death toll stands at more than 3,300 -- but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.

Entire families have vanished, said Derna resident Mohamad Badr as he was clearing his house of mud and trying to salvage what furniture and household items he could.

"The Bouzid family, the Fachiani family, the Khalidi family, these are entire families," the 23-year-old man told AFP, his hands and clothes stained with mud.

"There is no one left."

'Neighbors screamed'

On the flat roof of his house, he and five other workers have placed sofas, cushions, curtains, clothes, an exercise treadmill and electrical equipment.

"God knows if they still work," Badr said.

Emotion overtook him when he recounted how he survived the flood night that brought him "more than one nightmare".

"I heard a lot of screaming," he said. "It was neighbors who screamed until they died."

"It was dark and there was no one" to help them, he said.

When the muddy waters came crashing into the family home, Badr clung to an air conditioner fixed just below the ceiling.

Very quickly he could barely keep his head above water, and then the A/C unit broke off the wall.

Badr was able to cling onto a floating couch for the next few hours, until the waters gradually receded.

"My brother died after bleeding for hours from an arm injury," said Badr.

His parents, three children and sister-in-law survived, but he has had no news of his uncles and their families.

Thirty-two of his relatives are missing after their building was reduced to rubble that remains inaccessible.

"Maybe their bodies were found and no one was able to identify them," said Badr.

Mass graves

In the first days after the disaster, rescue teams and volunteers hastily buried hundreds of unidentified bodies in mass graves.

DNA samples were taken in the hopes they could be identified later, authorities said.

Elsewhere in the shattered city, Mahmud Erqiq, 50, has been offering drinking water and refreshments to the rescue workers.

With misty eyes, he also listed the names of neighboring families of whom he has had no news.

"The Karaz family, the Bou Chatila family, the Ghariani family, the Snidel family, the Tashani family..."

The day after the floods, he said, "I recovered 20 bodies in my neighborhood".

Erqiq's apartment, located on an upper floor, was spared, but he lost the metal workshop that was his livelihood.

Standing nearby was Miloud Boussertia, still visibly in shock after losing 25 family members.

"Our building collapsed. There were 25 people inside and they all died," said the 40-year-old who happened to be away from home when the disaster struck.

Boussertia said he lost "up to 70" members of his extended family in the city.

He has stuck close to the rescue teams. "As soon as they find a body, we come and open the body bag," he said.

But even this no longer brings certainty, added Boussertia, because at this stage often "the features are no longer recognizable".


Left Behind and Grieving, Survivors of Libya Floods Call for Accountability

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
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Left Behind and Grieving, Survivors of Libya Floods Call for Accountability

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city of Derna - AP

Abdel-Hamid al-Hassadi survived the devastating flooding in eastern Libya, but he lost some 90 people from his extended family.

The 23-year-old law graduate rushed upstairs along with his mother and his elder brother, as heavy rains lashed the city of Derna on the evening of Sept. 10. Soon, torrents of water were washing away buildings next to them.

“We witnessed the magnitude of the catastrophe,” al-Hassadi said in a phone interview, referring to the massive flooding that engulfed his city. “We have seen our neighbors’ dead bodies washing away in the floods."

Heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart.

Ten days after the disaster, al-Hassadi and thousands of others remain in Derna, most of them waiting for a word about relatives and loved ones. For Hassadi, it's the 290 relatives still missing.

The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials say. Thousands of people were killed, with many dead bodies still under the rubble or at sea, according to search teams. Government officials and aid agencies have given varied death tolls.

The World Health Organization says a total of 3,958 deaths have been registered in hospitals, but a previous death toll given by the head of Libya's Red Crescent said at least 11,300 were killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says at least 9,000 people are still missing.

Bashir Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the fatalities are in the thousands, but he didn’t give a specific toll for the number of retrieved bodies, since there are many groups involved in the recovery effort.

Many Derna residents, including women and children, are spending all their time at collection points of bodies. They are desperate to know who is inside body bags carried by ambulances.

Inside a school in the western part of the city, authorities posted photos of the retrieved bodies.

Anas Aweis, a 24-year-old resident, lost two brothers and is still searching for his father and four cousins. He went to the Ummul Qura school in the Sheiha neighborhood to inspect the exhibited photos.

“It’s chaos,” The Associated Press quoted Aweis saying, after spending two hours waiting in lines. “We want to know where they buried them if they died."

The floods have displaced at least 40,000 people in eastern Libya, including 30,000 in Derna, according to the UN’s migration agency. Many have moved to other cities across Libya, hosted by local communities or sheltered in schools. There are risks to staying, including potential infection by waterborne diseases.

Rana Ksaifi, assistant chief of mission in Libya for the UN's refugee agency, said the floods have left “unfathomable levels of destruction,” and triggered new waves of displacement in the already conflict-stricken nation.

The houseplants on the rooftop of Abdul Salam Anwisi's building survived the waters that reached up to his 4th-floor apartment. Anwisi's and a few other families rode out the deluge on the roof, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. They thought they wouldn't live to see daylight. Now, as he sifts through the water-damaged debris of his home, it's unclear what comes next.

Others across the country are calling for Libya's leaders to be taken to task.

Hundreds of angry protesters gathered Monday outside Derna’s main mosque, criticizing the government's lack of preparation and response. They lashed out at the political class that controls the oil-rich nation since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The North African country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Gadhafi. For most of the past decade, Libya has been split between two rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless militias and armed groups, a second in the east, allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, commanded by Gen. Khalifa Hafter. Neither government tolerates dissent.

Derna, as well as east and most of south Libya, is controlled by Hafter’s forces. However, funds for municipalities and other government agencies are controlled by the rival government in the capital, Tripoli.

Al-Hassadi, the law graduate, blamed local authorities for giving conflicting warnings to residents, leaving many defenseless. They asked residents to evacuate areas along the Mediterranean coast, but at the same time, they imposed a curfew, preventing people from leaving their homes.

“It was a mistake to impose a curfew," he said.

The dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s. They were meant to protect the city against heavy flooding, but years of no maintenance meant they were unable to keep the exceptional influx of water at bay.

Many Libyans are now calling for an international investigation and supervision of aid funds.

“All are corrupt here ... without exception,” said rights activist Tarik Lamloum.

 

 

 

 

 

 


More than 100 Syrians Dead in Derna Flood, Says Monitor

A view shows a damaged car, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya on September 16. (Reuters)
A view shows a damaged car, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya on September 16. (Reuters)
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More than 100 Syrians Dead in Derna Flood, Says Monitor

A view shows a damaged car, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya on September 16. (Reuters)
A view shows a damaged car, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya on September 16. (Reuters)

A total of 112 Syrians, including entire families, died in flash flooding that hit Libya's eastern city of Derna last week, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor (SOHR).

Libya hosts a huge Syrian diaspora and is also considered a launchpad for migrants from Syria and other countries hoping to reach Europe by sea on crowded and dilapidated boats.

"In total, 112 Syrians were killed in the flood and more than 100 are still missing," said the Observatory.

The flooding has killed nearly 3,300 people and left thousands more missing.

"I lost two nephews, their wives, and six of their children" including a six-month-old baby, said Syrian construction worker Khaled Ali, 37.

His nephews Hadi and Mahmoud had taken refuge in Lebanon after Syria's war erupted in 2011, but they later fled to Libya after Lebanon’s economy started to collapse.

"We fled from one crisis to another," said Ali who hails from Daraa province. "This is our fate."

Ibrahim Qalaaji, 46, held a funeral in Damascus for eight relatives, including his brother Mohammed and his wife and six children.

"A doctor there told us my brother and his wife had died, but there is no trace of the rest of the family," he said.

His surviving brother Shadi held on to a mosque's minaret as the waters hurled people towards him.

Shadi lost all his belongings, including identification papers, in the disaster, Qalaaji said.

"He has no past, no present, no future."


Libya Flood: After a Week, Families Haunted by Fate of the Missing 

This picture shows the aftermath of flash flooding caused by Storm Daniel in Libya's eastern port city of Derna on September 18, 2023. (AFP)
This picture shows the aftermath of flash flooding caused by Storm Daniel in Libya's eastern port city of Derna on September 18, 2023. (AFP)
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Libya Flood: After a Week, Families Haunted by Fate of the Missing 

This picture shows the aftermath of flash flooding caused by Storm Daniel in Libya's eastern port city of Derna on September 18, 2023. (AFP)
This picture shows the aftermath of flash flooding caused by Storm Daniel in Libya's eastern port city of Derna on September 18, 2023. (AFP)

"I lost my daughter. Her mother is convinced that she is still alive. I am convinced that she is dead," says Ahmed Ashour, 62. "The girl left me with a 3-month-old baby."

A week after the flood that swept the center of the city of Derna into the sea, families are still coping with the unbearable losses of their dead - and haunted by the unknown fates of the missing.

Ashour's eldest sister is also gone, and her daughter too.

"When we saw what happened to other people, we can accept anything that happened to us," she said.

The center of Derna is a wasteland, with stray dogs standing listlessly on muddy mounds where buildings once stood. Other buildings still somehow stand precariously above bottom floors that were mostly washed away. The legs of a store mannequin in dusty trousers stick out of the rubble in a ruined shop front.

Dams above the city burst in a storm a week ago, sending a huge torrent down a seasonal riverbed that runs through the center of the city of 120,000 people.

Thousands are dead and thousands more missing. Officials using different methodologies have given widely varying figures of the tolls so far; the mayor estimates more than 20,000 people were lost. The World Health Organization has confirmed 3,922 deaths.

"Hopes of finding survivors are fading, but we will continue efforts to search for any possible survivor," Othman Abduljaleel, health minister in the administration that controls eastern Libya, told Reuters by phone.

"Now efforts are focused on rescuing anyone and recovering bodies from under the rubble, especially at sea, with the participation of many divers and specialized rescue teams from countries."

Contaminated water

The roads into Derna were clogged on Monday with ambulances and trucks carrying in food, water, diapers, mattresses and other supplies.

Western countries and regional states have sent teams of rescue workers and mobile hospitals. Five Greek rescue workers, including three members of the armed forces, were killed in a car crash on Sunday.

The recovery effort has been hampered by chaos in a nation that has been a failed state since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime ruler Moammar al-Gaddafi in 2011.

Derna is in the east, beyond the control of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) in the west.

Residents say the threat to the city from the crumbling dams above it had been widely known, with projects to repair the dams stalled for more than a decade. They also blame authorities for failing to evacuate residents in time.

The biggest threat to survivors may now come from contaminated water supplies.

"The flooding crisis has left thousands of people in the Derna region without access to clean and safe drinking water, posing an imminent threat to their health and well-being," the International Rescue Committee charity said.

"Contaminated water can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, putting vulnerable populations, especially women and children, at increased risk."


Everything You Need to Know About This Year’s Meeting of Leaders at the UN General Assembly 

A "#UNGA" sign is on display at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP)
A "#UNGA" sign is on display at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP)
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Everything You Need to Know About This Year’s Meeting of Leaders at the UN General Assembly 

A "#UNGA" sign is on display at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP)
A "#UNGA" sign is on display at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP)

For two years, it was the coronavirus pandemic. Then, it was Russia's war in Ukraine. Throughout it all, the perils of climate change, poverty and inequality have steadily, increasingly thrummed through each convening of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.

As the 78th session opens, there's no single clear crisis set to dominate the General Debate, as none of the aforementioned ones have been resolved. The high-level meeting will be set against the backdrop of an ongoing war, new political crises in West Africa and Latin America, a lingering coronavirus, economic instability, widening inequality and fresh natural disasters in the forms of devastating earthquakes, floods and fires.

In the face of this tumult, the theme for this year's General Debate will be “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.”

Here's what to know about this year's UN General Assembly, presided over by Trinidad and Tobago's Dennis Francis.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY? While the effectiveness of the United Nations has been questioned for as long as it has existed, the benefits of attendance are undeniable. From the dais, countries broadcast their agendas, grievances and calls to action to the entire world and for the permanent record.

The exercise in multilateralism was born in the wake of World War II, and grounded in the hope for lasting peace. This week is a key chance for countries often drowned out by what they decry as a hegemonic world order to grab the attention of a larger audience. It’s also a chance for leaders to engage in meetings on the sidelines in neutral territory.

WHO IS COMING TO NEW YORK THIS YEAR? Heads of state and government from at least 145 countries are expected to take the dais at the river's edge. Among them will be Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — all expected in the first day. This will be Zelenskyy's first in-person appearance at the United Nations since the Russian invasion of his country — in 2022, the General Assembly voted to grant him special dispensation to submit a prerecorded speech.

But the parade of speakers will be marked by some key absences: While they're all sending representatives, the leaders of the rest of the permanent UN Security Council members — France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia — will not make the trip. The presence of Vladimir Putin would certainly have been surprising, but Emmanuel Macron is a regular attendee and this would have been British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's first opportunity to address the General Assembly. Macron cited King Charles III's imminent visit; Sunak, a busy schedule.

Top leaders from other major countries, including India — who just played host to the G20 summit in New Delhi this month — and Mexico, are also slated to send ministers in their steads.

WHAT DOES THE GENERAL DEBATE LOOK LIKE? We might be in the midst of US presidential primary debate season, but the structure of the General Debate at the United Nations bears little resemblance. It doesn't lend itself to obvious fireworks — booing or interruptions or immediate rebuttals are not permitted — but that doesn’t mean intrigue and drama are absent.

Each speech alone offers a rich text and the delivery adds subtext. Speeches can be fonts of evocative language, barbs and gauzily veiled messages. They're supposed to run for 15 minutes, but many miss that mark. Last year, speeches averaged around 19 minutes, drawing a wry chiding from Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová — clocking in under 12 minutes, her speech ended with: “And since obeying even the smallest of rules matters, let me finish here to respect the agreed time limit.” The longest speech in history ran to 269 minutes, and was delivered by Cuba's Fidel Castro in 1960.

Member states are also allowed to exercise the right of reply, in which they can rebut criticism voiced during the General Debate. These are often fiery exchanges at day's end, but aren’t typically delivered by heads of state or heads of government — rather, lower-level members of a country's delegation. Last year, there were 21 exercises of the right of reply.

HOW LONG DOES THIS YEAR'S GENERAL DEBATE RUN? It's still six days, as usual, but this year's General Debate ends a day later — Tuesday, Sept. 26. While past General Debates usually ran from Tuesday through Monday, with a break only on Sunday, this year there's a two-day break. A UN spokesperson confirmed that there will be no speeches on the usually final Monday in observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

WHY DOES BRAZIL SPEAK FIRST AT THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY? It's tradition. Early on, Brazil ventured forward when no other country would volunteer to speak first. Decades later, the South American country retains the pole position. As the host country, the United States typically speaks second (though last year, President Joe Biden had to delay his speech by a day because he was attending Queen Elizabeth II's funeral).

For the scores of speeches that follow, the order is determined by multiple variables, including whom a country is sending to deliver the speech (heads of state precede heads of government, who precede mere ministers and other representatives), countries' own preferences and geographic balance.

ARE NON-UN MEMBERS ALLOWED TO ATTEND? Some. While all member states are invited to speak, not all necessarily make avail of the opportunity. But the United Nations also has permanent observers, which have access to “most meetings and relevant documentation,” per the UN website.

The European Union, Palestine and the Holy See (the Vatican) are permanent observers again on the docket this year. Last year, Palestine had the longest speech, with President Mahmoud Abbas clocking in at more than 47 minutes.