Putin Warns the West: Russia Cannot Be Isolated - Or Held Back

11 March 2022, Russia, Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting. (dpa)
11 March 2022, Russia, Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting. (dpa)
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Putin Warns the West: Russia Cannot Be Isolated - Or Held Back

11 March 2022, Russia, Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting. (dpa)
11 March 2022, Russia, Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting. (dpa)

President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Tuesday that attempts to isolate Moscow would fail, citing the success of the Soviet space program as evidence that Russia could achieve spectacular leaps forward in tough conditions.

Russia says it will never again depend on the West after the United States and its allies imposed crippling sanctions on it to punish Putin for his Feb. 24 order for what he called a "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Sixty one years to the day since the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin blasted off into the history books by becoming the first man in space, Putin traveled to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East, 3,450 miles (5550 km) east of Moscow.

"The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete but the Soviet Union was still first in space," Putin said, according to Russian state television.

"We don't intend to be isolated," Putin said. "It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world - especially such a vast country as Russia."

Russia's Cold War space successes such as Gagarin's flight and the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite from earth, have a particular pertinence for Russia: both events shocked the United States. The launch of Sputnik 1 prompted the United States to create NASA in a bid to catch up with Moscow.

Putin says the "special military operation" in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia - including via the NATO military alliance - and that Moscow had to defend Russian-speaking people in Ukraine from persecution.

He said on Tuesday that the had no doubts Russia would achieve all of its objectives in Ukraine - a conflict he cast as both inevitable and essential to defend Russia in the long term.

"Its goals are absolutely clear and noble," Putin said. "It's clear that we didn't have a choice. It was the right decision."

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

Russia's economy is on track to contract by more than 10% in 2022, the biggest fall in gross domestic product since the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said on Tuesday.

Putin toured the space port in Russia's far east with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Why an earth are we getting so worried about these sanctions?" Lukashenko said, according to Russian state television.

Lukashenko, who has a track record of sometimes saying things that appear to jar with his closest ally's stated positions on a range of issues, has insisted that Belarus must be involved in negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and has said that Belarus had been unfairly labelled "an accomplice of the aggressor".



Pakistani Police Search for Gunmen after Abduction and Killings

Children take a camel ride along a street during the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Quetta, Pakistan on April 11, 2024. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)
Children take a camel ride along a street during the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Quetta, Pakistan on April 11, 2024. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)
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Pakistani Police Search for Gunmen after Abduction and Killings

Children take a camel ride along a street during the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Quetta, Pakistan on April 11, 2024. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)
Children take a camel ride along a street during the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Quetta, Pakistan on April 11, 2024. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)

Security forces are searching for gunmen who killed eight people after abducting them from a bus on a highway in southwestern Pakistan, a police official said Saturday, Earlier, the same attackers killed two people in another car they forced to stop.

No one has claimed responsibility for the Friday night attack in Baluchistan province, which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.

Deputy Commissioner Habibullah Mosakhail said the gunmen set up a blockade, then stopped the bus and went through the passengers’ ID cards. They took eight people with them, all from the eastern Punjab province, fleeing into the mountains, he said.

Police later recovered eight bullet-ridden bodies under a bridge about 5 kilometers from the highway. Earlier on Friday, the same gunmen had opened fire at a vehicle that failed to stop for their blockade, killing two and wounding six.

A search for the perpetrators was underway, Mosakhail said. The bus was heading from the provincial capital of Quetta to Taftan, a town bordering Iran.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack, expressing his “deep sorrow and regret over this shocking incident.” He offered his condolences to the families of the victims and said he stood by them in their hour of grief, according to a statement from his office.

“The perpetrators of this incident of terrorism and their facilitators will be punished,” Sharif said.

Ethnic Baloch insurgents have previously claimed responsibility for similar killings in the region, which is home to deep-water Gwadar sea port being developed by neighboring China. The insurgents have also targeted Chinese nationals and their interests.


US Ex-diplomat Sentenced to 15 Years for Spying for Cuba

People gather in front of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building where the trial of the former US diplomat who served as US ambassador to Bolivia, Victor Manuel Rocha, is being held, in Miami, Florida, USA, 12 April 2024. EPA/CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH
People gather in front of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building where the trial of the former US diplomat who served as US ambassador to Bolivia, Victor Manuel Rocha, is being held, in Miami, Florida, USA, 12 April 2024. EPA/CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH
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US Ex-diplomat Sentenced to 15 Years for Spying for Cuba

People gather in front of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building where the trial of the former US diplomat who served as US ambassador to Bolivia, Victor Manuel Rocha, is being held, in Miami, Florida, USA, 12 April 2024. EPA/CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH
People gather in front of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building where the trial of the former US diplomat who served as US ambassador to Bolivia, Victor Manuel Rocha, is being held, in Miami, Florida, USA, 12 April 2024. EPA/CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH

A former US diplomat was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday after admitting to acting as an agent of Cuba in what the Justice Department has called one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the US government.

Victor Manuel Rocha, who served as US ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, pleaded guilty to two charges including acting as an illegal foreign agent. He was initially charged in December.

Rocha, 73, secretly supported Cuba’s ruling Communist Party and aided the country’s intelligence gathering against Washington for more than four decades, including during a 20-year career in the State Department, according to US prosecutors.
"Today's plea brings an end to more than four decades of betrayal and deceit by Mr. Rocha," David Newman, a senior national security official at the US Justice Department said during a press conference in Miami. "For most of his life, Mr. Rocha lived a lie."

Rocha admitted his decades of work for Cuba and boasted about his ability to avoid detection in a series of meetings in 2022 and 2023 with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a representative of Cuba’s foreign intelligence service, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court.

“What we have done...it’s enormous. More than a grand slam,” Rocha told the undercover agent, according to the complaint.

A lawyer for Rocha did not respond to requests for comment. Rocha agreed to plead guilty as part of a deal with federal prosecutors that requires him to divulge details of his interactions with Cuban intelligence.
But US officials said they may never know the full extent of Rocha's cooperation with Havana.

Rocha sought out positions that would give him access to sensitive information and influence over US foreign policy, according to prosecutors.


Russia Summons French Ambassador Over Minister's 'Unacceptable' Comments

The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, California, US, September 2, 2017. (Reuters)
The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, California, US, September 2, 2017. (Reuters)
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Russia Summons French Ambassador Over Minister's 'Unacceptable' Comments

The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, California, US, September 2, 2017. (Reuters)
The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, California, US, September 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Russia on Friday summoned the French ambassador to Moscow following "unacceptable" comments by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Sejourne on Monday said that France had no interest in talking to the Kremlin, a few days after a telephone conversation between Russian and French defense ministers ended in divergent accounts.

French ambassador Pierre Levy "was informed about the unacceptable character of such statements, which have nothing to do with reality," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, denouncing a "deliberate act" that "aimed to undermine the possibility of any dialogue between the two countries".

A French diplomatic source told AFP on Friday: "The Russian ministry, as usual, does not accept that we correct its lies.

"The minister recalled the reality of the exchanges and the Russian authorities' attempt at manipulation following the call from the armed forces minister."

It is the latest in series of spats between the two countries, whose relations have deteriorated since the start of the year, against the backdrop of the prolonged conflict in Ukraine.

After a conversation between the two countries' defence ministers on April 3, Russia said it "hoped" that the French secret services were not involved in the Moscow concert hall attack claimed by Islamic State group, which killed 144 people on March 22.

France had initiated the meeting in a bid to pass on "useful information" to Russia about the attack.

French president Emmanuel Macron reacted angrily to the Russian suggestion, denouncing "threatening" comments.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu told television station LCI late Friday that the anti-terrorist cooperation between the two countries "is not suspended" but "it is not working in the partnership manner that it should."

He said France would continue to speak with Russia "when it is useful. It is called defending the interests of France."

In January, Russia claimed to have killed 60 French "mercenaries" in Kharkiv, in northeast Ukraine, while Paris denounced "a coordinated manoeuvre" of disinformation emanating from Moscow.

Russia also announced that it had summoned Slovenian ambassador Darja Bavdaz Kuret on Friday to notify her of the expulsion of a Slovenian diplomat "in return" for a similar decision taken by Ljubljana in March against a Russian representative.

On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it had done the same with Austrian ambassador Werner Almhofer following the expulsion of two Russian diplomats by Vienna. Moscow expelled an Austrian diplomat in response.


China Summons Japanese, Philippine Diplomats over Negative Comments

Printed Chinese and Japanese flags are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Printed Chinese and Japanese flags are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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China Summons Japanese, Philippine Diplomats over Negative Comments

Printed Chinese and Japanese flags are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Printed Chinese and Japanese flags are seen in this illustration, July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

China summoned Japanese and Philippine diplomats on Friday to express dissatisfaction over negative comments about it aired during a summit of the leaders of the United States, Japan and Philippines, the foreign ministry said.

The United States and its allies, including Japan, have been building up their militaries to counter what they see as a growing threat from China in areas such as the busy waterway of the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

At this week's summit in Washington, the three leaders discussed China's aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea, besides unveiling a wide range of pacts to boost security and economic ties.

"We strongly deplore and strongly oppose the remarks," a foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, told a regular press briefing in response to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's speech to US Congress in which he named China the biggest challenge the world.

China strongly opposes these countries' small-group politics and any acts that instigate and drive up tension, she said about the summit.

"China opposes forming exclusive circles in the region," Mao said, Reuters reported.

A ministry official, Liu Jinsong, met a Japanese embassy official, Akira Yokochi, to make "solemn representations" about the negative comments, the ministry said in a statement, voicing China's serious concern and strong dissatisfaction.

Liu also made "solemn representations" to the Philippine ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz, who was summoned by the ministry over the Southeast Asian country's "negative words and deeds" related to China during the summit.

US President Joe Biden and Kishida had laid out a series of projects, from codeveloping missiles to manned moon landings, while condemning China's escalatory behavior in the South China Sea region.

The two also announced plans to upgrade their military alliance, including the US military command in Japan and more joint development of defence equipment.

In a separate summit with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Biden warned of Beijing's South China Sea moves.


Belgium Opens Probe into Russian ‘Interference’ in European Parliament

Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
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Belgium Opens Probe into Russian ‘Interference’ in European Parliament

Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP
Members of the European parliament during a plenary mini-session in Brussels on April 11, 2024. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

Belgian prosecutors have opened a probe into Russian “interference” in the European Parliament following allegations lawmakers were paid to spread Kremlin propaganda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.

“Our judicial authorities have now confirmed this interference is subject to prosecution,” De Croo said.

“The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does. As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen’s right to a free and safe vote.”

He said a summit of EU leaders next week would discuss the allegations which have been raised just ahead of bloc-wide elections in June to choose a new parliament, AFP reported.

De Croo said Moscow’s “clear” objectives were to “help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution”.

A spokesperson for Belgium’s prosecutors’ office confirmed to AFP that a probe was started on Thursday.

The Czech Republic last month said its intelligence service had discovered a network that used EU lawmakers to spread Russian propaganda through the Prague-based Voice of Europe news site.

Belgium says its own services have determined that some of the lawmakers had been paid to promote Moscow’s propaganda.

“If there would be a type of bribery—and our services indicate that payments have taken place—while you need two sides for that to happen, you have people who organise it, but you also have people to receive it,” De Croo said.

EU lawmakers face strict rules regarding independence and ethics and can face penalties—financial and otherwise—if they violate them.

The Greens grouping in the European Parliament and a Czech daily said the lawmakers under suspicion came from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.

The political news website Politico said it identified 16 EU lawmakers who had appeared on Voice of Europe, all of them far-right politicians.

The Czech newspaper Denik N and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine named two top German candidates from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Petr Bryston and Maximilian Krah, as politicians suspected of receiving Russian funds to spread the Kremlin talking points.

Bryston and Krah have denied receiving any payments. Denik N reported that Czech secret services had an audio recording implicating Bryston.

The European Parliament’s main political groups have called for the legislature to also probe the alleged propaganda-peddling.

The revelation comes a year after the “Qatargate” bribery scandal, in which a number of EU lawmakers were accused of being paid to promote the interests of Qatar and Morocco. Both states have denied the accusations.


Biden Cancels $7.4 billion in Student Debt

US President Joe Biden speaks as he announces a new plan for federal student loan relief during a visit to Madison Area Technical College Truax Campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, US, April 8, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Joe Biden speaks as he announces a new plan for federal student loan relief during a visit to Madison Area Technical College Truax Campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, US, April 8, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Biden Cancels $7.4 billion in Student Debt

US President Joe Biden speaks as he announces a new plan for federal student loan relief during a visit to Madison Area Technical College Truax Campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, US, April 8, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Joe Biden speaks as he announces a new plan for federal student loan relief during a visit to Madison Area Technical College Truax Campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, US, April 8, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

The Biden administration will cancel $7.4 billion in student debt for 277,000 borrowers, the White House said on Friday, the latest in a series of debt cancellations.

President Joe Biden announced plans on Monday to ease student debt that would benefit at least 23 million Americans, addressing a key issue for young voters whose support he needs as he seeks re-election in November.

Those plans include canceling up to $20,000 of accrued and capitalized interest for borrowers, regardless of income, which Biden's administration estimates would eliminate the entirety of that interest for 23 million borrowers, Reuters reported.

The latest round of debt relief affects 277,000 Americans enrolled in the SAVE Plan, other borrowers enrolled in Income-Driven Repayment plans, and borrowers receiving Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the White House said in a statement.

It follows an announcement in March that $6 billion in student loans would be canceled for 78,000 borrowers.

The administration said on Friday it has approved $153 billion in student debt relief for 4.3 million Americans.

Biden, a Democrat, last year pledged to find other avenues for tackling debt relief after the US Supreme Court in June blocked his broader plan to cancel $430 billion in student loan debt.

The campaign of former President Donald Trump, Biden's Republican challenger in the White House race, in March criticized the student loan cancellation as a bailout that was done "without a single act of Congress."

The issue remains high on the agenda of younger voters, many of whom have concerns about Biden's foreign policy on the war in Gaza and fault him for not achieving greater debt forgiveness.

Republicans have called Biden's student loan forgiveness approach an overreach of his authority and an unfair benefit to college-educated borrowers while other borrowers received no such relief.

Roughly half of federal student loan debt is held by people with a graduate degree, according to the Brookings Institution think tank. An August 2023 report by the Department of Education said graduate students received the highest share - 47 percent - of federal student loan disbursements from 2021-22, even though they accounted for only 21 percent of all borrowers.


German Police Shut Down Pro-Palestinian Gathering

12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
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German Police Shut Down Pro-Palestinian Gathering

12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa

German police cut the power and shut down a conference of pro-Palestinian activists on Friday after a banned speaker appeared by video link, organizers said.
The three-day Palestine Congress, promoted by pro-Palestinian groups including former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis's DIEM25 party, said it aimed to raise awareness of what it called Israel's "genocide" in Gaza.
The police banned the final two days of the event, citing concern about the potential for hate speech, Reuters reported.
Among the speakers was activist Salman Abu Sitta, author of a January essay that expressed understanding for the Hamas militants who on Oct. 7 raided Israel.
"A speaker was projected who was subject to a ban on political activity," Berlin police said on social media. "There is a risk of a speaker being put on screen who in the past made antisemitic and violence-glorifying remarks. The gathering was ended and banned on Saturday and Sunday."

Organizers of the conference said police intervened when Salman, who according to Stern magazine was banned from entering Germany, began speaking on video.

"The police violence, like we were some sort of criminals, was unbearable for a democratic country," said Karin de Rigo, a parliamentary candidate for the German offshoot of DIEM25. "They not only stormed the stage, they cut the power like we were transmitting violence."

In Germany as in other Western countries, the war in Gaza has stirred growing popular opposition as the Palestinian death toll has mounted.

Germany's backing for Israel is rooted in a desire to atone for the genocide of Europe's Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. The presence of a large, growing Muslim and Arab population in Germany has made the tension particularly acute.

Many protesters have complained that expressions of solidarity with Palestinians are effectively criminalized by authorities on alert for antisemitism.

"It is right and necessary that the Berlin police intervened firmly at the so-called Palestine Congress," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser posted on social media. She earlier had urged police to be on guard for signs of hate speech at the congress.


Germany: Police Arrest Teens on Suspicion of Terror Plot

Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
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Germany: Police Arrest Teens on Suspicion of Terror Plot

Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo

Police in western Germany have detained two teenage boys and two teenage girls on suspicion of planning an ISIS-style attack on churches.

Three of the four suspects, all teenagers aged 15 to 16, were arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia and are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and having committed to carrying it out,” according to prosecutors in Dusseldorf.

The fourth suspect, aged 16, was arrested in Stuttgart on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state,” prosecutors there said.

The Bild newspaper said the group had been planning to attack Christians in churches as well as police officers, adding that they were supporters of ISIS.

They are alleged to have discussed an attack that would have involved knives, Molotov cocktails and potentially guns. The assault was in an early stage of planning, according to German media reports, which suggested the potential targets were in Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Cologne.


Biden Expects Iran to Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
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Biden Expects Iran to Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash

US President Joe Biden on Friday said he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner, rather than later" and warned Tehran not to proceed.
Asked by reporters about his message to Iran, Biden said simply, "Don't," and he underscored Washington's commitment to defend Israel.
"We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he said.
Israel braced on Friday for an attack by Iran or its proxies as warnings grew of retaliation for an attack on Iran's embassy compound last week in Damascus that killed a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' overseas Quds Force and six other officers.
Israel did not claim responsibility for the airstrike on April 1. But Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said Israel "must be punished and shall be" for an operation he said was equivalent to an attack on Iranian soil.
Biden said he would not divulge secure information, but said his expectation was that an attack by Iran could come "sooner, rather than later." He spoke to reporters at the White House after a virtual speech to a civil rights conference, Reuters said.
The US rushed warships into position to protect Israel and American forces in the region, hoping to head off a direct attack from Iran on Israel that could come as soon as Friday or Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The moves by the US that are part of an effort to avoid a wider conflict in the Middle East came after a warning from a person familiar with the matter about the timing and location of the potential Iranian attack, the newspaper said.
However, a person briefed by the Iranian leadership said that while plans to attack are being discussed, no final decision has been made, the Journal said.
Countries including India, France, Poland and Russia have warned their citizens against travel to the region, already on edge over the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month. Germany on Friday called on its citizens to leave Iran.
Earlier, White House spokesperson John Kirby said the reportedly imminent attack by Iran on Israel was a real and viable threat, but gave no details about any possible timing.
Kirby said the United States was looking at its own force posture in the region in light of Tehran's threat and was watching the situation very closely.


Russian City Calls for Mass Evacuations Due to Rapidly Rising Flood Waters

 A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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Russian City Calls for Mass Evacuations Due to Rapidly Rising Flood Waters

 A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)

Authorities in the Russian city of Orenburg called on thousands of residents to evacuate immediately on Friday due to rapidly rising flood waters after major rivers burst their banks due to a historic deluge of melting snow.

Water was also rising sharply in another Russian region - Kurgan - and in neighboring Kazakhstan the authorities said 100,000 people had been evacuated so far, as rapidly warming temperatures melted heavy snow and ice.

The deluge of melt water has forced over 120,000 people from their homes in Russia's Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan as major rivers such as the Ural, which flows through Kazakhstan into the Caspian, overwhelmed embankments.

Regional authorities called for the mass evacuation of parts of Orenburg, a city of over half a million people about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow.

"There's a siren going off in the city. This is not a drill. There's a mass evacuation in progress!" Sergei Salmin, the city's mayor, said on the Telegram messenger app.

Emergency workers said water levels in the Ural river were more than 2 meters (6.5 ft) above what they regarded as a dangerous level. Water lapped at the windows of brick and timber houses in the city, and pet dogs perched on rooftops.

Salmin called on residents to gather their documents, medicine and essential items and to abandon their homes.

People living in flooded homes lamented the loss of their belongings.

"Judging by the water levels, all the furniture, some household appliances and interior decorating materials are ruined," local resident Vyacheslav told Reuters as he sat in an idling motorboat and gazed over his shoulder at his two-storey brick home, partially submerged in muddy water.

"It's a colossal amount of money."

Alexei Kudinov, Orenburg's deputy mayor, had said earlier that over 360 houses and nearly 1,000 plots of land had been flooded overnight. He said the deluge was expected to reach its peak on Friday and start subsiding in two days' time.

Orenburg Governor Denis Pasler told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that 11,972 homes had been flooded and if waters rose further 19,412 more people would be in danger.

The village of Kaminskoye in the Kurgan region was also being evacuated on Friday morning after the water level there rose 1.4 metres overnight, Kurgan's regional governor Vadim Shumkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Kaminskoye is a settlement along the Tobol river which also flows through the regional center Kurgan, a city of 300,000 people. Shumkov said a deluge could reach Kurgan in the coming days.

"We can only hope the floodplain stretches wide and the ground absorbs as much water as possible in its way," he said, adding that a dam was being reinforced in Kurgan.

Kurgan is home to a key part of Russia's military-industrial complex - a giant factory that produces infantry fighting vehicles for the army which are in high demand in Ukraine where the Russian military is on the offensive in some areas.

There were no reports that the factory, Kurganmashzavod, had so far been affected.

Rising water levels are also threatening southern parts of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world, and in areas near the Volga, Europe's biggest river.

Water levels in some other Russian regions are expected to peak within the next two weeks.