Russia’s Claim of Mariupol’s Capture Fuels Concern for POWs

 An aerial view of a residential area destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AP)
An aerial view of a residential area destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AP)
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Russia’s Claim of Mariupol’s Capture Fuels Concern for POWs

 An aerial view of a residential area destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AP)
An aerial view of a residential area destroyed by Russian shelling in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AP)

Russia’s claimed seizure of a Mariupol steel plant that became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began, capping a nearly three-month siege that left a city in ruins and more than 20,000 residents feared dead.

After the Russian Defense Ministry announced late Friday that its forces had removed the last Ukrainian fighters from the plant's miles of underground tunnels, concern mounted for the Ukrainian defenders who now are prisoners in Russian hands.
Denis Pushilin, the head of an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, said Saturday that the Ukrainians, considered heroes by their fellow citizens, were sure to face a tribunal for their wartime actions.

"I believe that a tribunal is inevitable here. I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community," Russian state news agency Tass quoted Pushilin as saying.

Russian officials and state media repeatedly have tried to characterize the fighters who holed up in the Azovstal steel plant as neo-Nazis. Among the plant's more than 2,400 defenders were members of the Azov Regiment, a national guard unit with roots in the far right.

The Ukrainian government has not commented on Russia's claim of capturing Azovstal, which for weeks remained Mariupol's last holdout of Ukrainian resistance, and with it completing Moscow's long-sought goal of controlling the city, home to a strategic seaport.

Ukraine's military this week told the fighters holed up in the plant, hundreds of them wounded, that their mission was complete and they could come out. It described their extraction as an evacuation, not a mass surrender.

The end of the battle for Mariupol would help Putin offset some stinging setbacks, including the failure of Russian troops to take over Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, the sinking of the Russian Navy’s flagship in the Black Sea and the continued resistance that has stalled an offensive in eastern Ukraine.

The impact of Russia's declared victory on the broader war in Ukraine remained unclear. Many Russian troops already had been redeployed from Mariupol to elsewhere in the conflict, which began when Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov reported Saturday that Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian special-operations base in the Black Sea region of Odesa as well as a significant cache of Western-supplied weapons in northern Ukraine's Zhytomyr region. There was no confirmation from the Ukrainian side.

In its morning operational report, the Ukrainian military general staff reported heavy fighting in much of eastern Ukraine, including the areas of Sievierodonetsk, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

After failing to capture Kyiv, Russia focused its offensive on the country's eastern industrial heartland. The Russia-backed separatists have controlled parts of the Donbas region since 2014, and Moscow wants to expand the territory under its control.

The seizure of Mariupol furthers Russia’s quest to essentially create a land bridge from Russia stretching through the Donbas region to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Saturday that Russia was working to restore the port and remove mines.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, demanded anew that Russia pay "in one way or another for everything it has destroyed in Ukraine. Every burned house. Every ruined school, ruined hospital. Each blown up house of culture and infrastructure facility. Every destroyed enterprise."

"Of course, the Russian state will not even recognize that it is an aggressor,” he said in an address late Friday. "But its recognition is not required."

Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to his US counterpart, Joe Biden, who signed off Saturday on a fresh, $40 billion infusion of aid for the war-ravaged nation. Half of the funding provides military assistance.

Mariupol, which is part of the Donbas, was blockaded early in the war and became a frightening example to people elsewhere in the country of the hunger, terror and death they might face if the Russians surrounded their communities.

As the end drew near at the steel plant, wives of fighters who had held out told of what they feared would be their last contact with their husbands.

Olga Boiko, the wife of a marine, wiped away tears as she shared the words her husband wrote her on Thursday: "Hello. We surrender, I don’t know when I will get in touch with you and if I will at all. Love you. Kiss you. Bye."

The seaside steelworks, occupying some 11 square kilometers (4 square miles), had been a battleground for weeks. Drawing Russian airstrikes, artillery and tank fire, the dwindling group of outgunned fighters held out with the help of airdrops before their government ordered them to abandon the plant.

Zelenskyy revealed in an interview published Friday that Ukrainian helicopter pilots braved Russian anti-aircraft fire to ferry in medicine, food and water to the steel mill as well as to retrieve bodies and rescue wounded fighters.

A "very large" number of the pilots died on their daring missions, he said. "They are absolutely heroic people, who knew that it would be difficult, knew that to fly would be almost impossible," Zelenskyy said.

Russia claimed that the Azov Regiment's commander was taken away from the plant in an armored vehicle because of local residents' alleged hatred for him, but no evidence of Ukrainian antipathy toward the nationalist regiment has emerged.

The Kremlin has seized on the regiment's far-right origins in its drive to cast the invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russian authorities have threatened to put some of the steel mill’s defenders on trial for alleged war crimes.

With Russia controlling the city, Ukrainian authorities are likely to face delays in documenting evidence of alleged Russian atrocities in Mariupol, including the bombings of a maternity hospital and a theater where hundreds of civilians had taken cover.

Satellite images in April showed what appeared to be mass graves just outside Mariupol, where local officials accused Russia of concealing the slaughter by burying up to 9,000 civilians.

Earlier this month, hundreds of civilians were evacuated from the plant during humanitarian cease-fires and spoke of the terror of ceaseless bombardment, the dank conditions underground and the fear that they wouldn’t make it out alive.

At one point in the siege, Pope Francis lamented that Mariupol had become a "city of martyrs."

An estimated 100,000 of the 450,000 people who resided there before the war remain. Many, trapped by Russia’s siege, were left without food, water and electricity.

The chief executive of Metinvest, a multinational company that owns the Azovstal plant and another steel mill, Ilyich, in Mariupol, spoke of the city's devastation in an interview published Saturday in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"The Russians are trying to clean it (the city) up to hide their crimes,'' the newspaper quoted Metinvest CEO Yuriy Ryzhenkov as saying. ”The inhabitants are trying to make the city function, to make water supplies work again."

"But the sewer system is damaged, there has been flooding, and infections are feared” from drinking the water, he said.

The Ilyich steelworks still has some intact infrastructure, but if the Russians try to get it running, Ukrainians will refuse to return to their jobs there, Ryzhenkov said.

"We will never work under Russian occupation,'' he said.



Parisians Protest Against Islamophobia

A woman shouts slogans into a megaphone as a protester holds a placard reading "To support Palestinians is not a crime" during a protest "against racism, against Islamophobia" at the call of various organisations in Paris on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Antonin UTZ / AFP)
A woman shouts slogans into a megaphone as a protester holds a placard reading "To support Palestinians is not a crime" during a protest "against racism, against Islamophobia" at the call of various organisations in Paris on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Antonin UTZ / AFP)
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Parisians Protest Against Islamophobia

A woman shouts slogans into a megaphone as a protester holds a placard reading "To support Palestinians is not a crime" during a protest "against racism, against Islamophobia" at the call of various organisations in Paris on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Antonin UTZ / AFP)
A woman shouts slogans into a megaphone as a protester holds a placard reading "To support Palestinians is not a crime" during a protest "against racism, against Islamophobia" at the call of various organisations in Paris on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Antonin UTZ / AFP)

A crowd of around 2,000 people protested in Paris against racism, Islamophobia and violence against children on Sunday after a court allowed their demonstration to go ahead.
Bans on protests have been more frequent in France in recent months amid tensions stirred by Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza. In a country that is home to large Muslim and Jewish communities, authorities have banned many pro-Palestinian demonstrations and public gatherings, citing the risk of antisemitic hate crimes and violence.
On Sunday, the protesters marched peacefully from the multi-ethnic Barbes neighborhood towards Place de la Republique, Reuters reported. Many chanted slogans remembering Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent who was fatally shot during a police traffic stop last year.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told broadcaster BFM TV he initially chose to ban the march because in announcing the protest the organizers had likened French police violence to the war in Gaza, and he felt the event could cause a threat to public order.
That argument was rejected by Paris's administrative court in a fast-track decision.
"Fighting and mobilizing for the protection of all children is normal, it should be," said Yessa Belkgodja, one of the organizers of the march, welcoming the court's decision.
"If we are banned from protesting, it means we don’t have the right to express ourselves in France (..) We are being monitored on social media. That's enough, leave us alone", said Yamina Ayad, a retiree who was wrapped in Palestine flag.


Iran Ramps up Crackdown as Regional Tensions Rage

Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
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Iran Ramps up Crackdown as Regional Tensions Rage

Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Executions of convicts, arrests of dissidents and a resurgence in patrols enforcing the obligatory wearing of hijabs: Iran is stepping up repression at home as tensions flare with its arch-foe Israel, activists say.

Iranians have endured increased repression since nationwide protests were sparked from September 2022 by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly flouting the mandatory dress rules for women.

But the crackdown has entered a new phase as fears of a regional conflict surge, with Israel launching an apparent strike on Iran on Friday, Agence France Presse reported.

Activists have reported that the dreaded white vans of the "morality police" have returned to city squares across Iran, picking up women deemed to have violated the rule of obligatory hijab.

Tehran police chief Abbas Ali Mohammadian openly announced the latest crackdown on April 13, with local media saying it was codenamed "Nour" ("light" in Persian).

Multiple videos posted on social media -- under the hashtag "jang aliyeh zanan" ("war against women") -- have shown women being bundled into vans by male police in body armor accompanied by female police agents.

Iran “has turned the streets into a battlefield against women and youth," 2023 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and jailed rights activist Narges Mohammadi wrote in a message from Tehran's Evin prison and published by her supporters on social media.

In one video filmed close to the Tajrish metro station in northern Tehran, a woman collapses on the ground after being apprehended by the police, telling bystanders who then seek to revive her that her phone was confiscated.

Another includes what appears to be the sound of police using electric shock against women who had been rounded up and put into a van, AFP said.

"Amid increasing dissent at home and international attention focused on regional tensions, the Islamic republic is grabbing the opportunity to intensify its campaign of repression against dissent," said the director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi.

"Without a firm international response, the Islamic Republic will be emboldened to intensify its violence against women and its egregious violations of human rights," said Ghaemi.

Hundreds were killed, according to rights groups, and thousands arrested, according to the United Nations, in the crackdown on the 2022 protests that represented one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic republic.

Among those arrested in recent days was Aida Shahkarami, the sister of Nika Shahkarami, 16, who died during the 2022 crackdown, her mother Nasrin wrote on social media.

Aida was detained "for not wearing the mandatory hijab," Nasrin Shahkarami wrote on social media.

Nika Shahkarami was found dead during the protests, with some family members accusing the security forces of killing her.

Dina Ghalibaf, a journalist and student at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University, was arrested after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station, according to the Norway-based Hengaw rights group.

Executions, which activists say are used by Tehran as a means to instil fear into society, have also continued apace, with at least 110 people executed this year alone according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group.

Among those executed in recent days were a married couple, Esmail Hassaniani, 29, and his wife Marjan Hajizadeh, 19, who were sentenced to death for drug-related charges in a joint case and hanged in Zanjan central prison on 11 April, according to IHR.

"The regime will without any doubt use this opportunity to tighten the grip inside the country," said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

"They still haven't managed to take the control that they had before September 2022. They may have the opportunity to do so now, if all the international attention goes to the escalating tension with Israel."


Netanyahu Says Will Fight Any Sanctions on Army Battalions

Israeli soldiers operate during a raid, at Nour Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
Israeli soldiers operate during a raid, at Nour Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
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Netanyahu Says Will Fight Any Sanctions on Army Battalions

Israeli soldiers operate during a raid, at Nour Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
Israeli soldiers operate during a raid, at Nour Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would fight against sanctions being imposed on any Israeli military units after media reported that Washington was planning such a step against a battalion for alleged rights violations.
The military said that its "Netzah Yehuda" battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.
Following publications about sanctions against the battalion, the military “is not aware of the issue. If a decision is made on the matter it will be reviewed,” it said.
The military “works and will continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law," it added.
"If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) - I will fight it with all my strength," Netanyahu said in a statement.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Sunday that the US was also considering similar moves against other police and military units.
The sanctions, which would be imposed under the 1997 Leahy law, would prohibit the transfer of US military aid to the unit and prevent soldiers and officers participating in training either with the US military or in programs that receive US funding.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said he had made “determinations” over the claim that Israel had violated the Leahy law, which prohibits the provision of military assistance to police or security units that commit gross violations of human rights.
 


Khamenei Says Iran Demonstrated its Power Against Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with the commanders of the Iranian armed forces in Tehran, Iran April 21, 2024. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with the commanders of the Iranian armed forces in Tehran, Iran April 21, 2024. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
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Khamenei Says Iran Demonstrated its Power Against Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with the commanders of the Iranian armed forces in Tehran, Iran April 21, 2024. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with the commanders of the Iranian armed forces in Tehran, Iran April 21, 2024. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday thanked the country's armed forces for their attack this month on Israel, saying the country had demonstrated its power regardless of how many targets were hit, a tacit acknowledgment that despite launching a massive assault, few projectiles actually made through to their targets.

In its first ever direct attack on Israel, Iran sent a barrage of more than 300 missiles and drones on April 13 in what it said was retaliation for Israel's suspected deadly strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1.

Most of the missiles and drones were shot down by Israel and its allies and the attack caused modest damage in Israel.

"How many missiles were launched and how many of them hit their target is not the primary question, what really matters is that Iran demonstrated its power during that operation," Khamenei said on Sunday.

Early on Friday, explosions echoed over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack. Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation - a response that appeared gauged towards averting region-wide war.

"In the recent operation, the armed forces managed to minimize costs and maximize gains," Khamenei added, urging military officials to "ceaselessly pursue military innovation and learn the enemy's tactics.”

Khamenei, 85, made the comments in a meeting attended by the top ranks of Iran's regular military, police and the Revolutionary Guard.

Satellite images analyzed Saturday by The Associated Press showed the Iranian attack caused only minor damage at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel, including taking a chunk out of a taxiway that Israel quickly repaired.


Türkiye Detains 36 People over Alleged ISIS Ties

People walk at the Eminonu square following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in Istanbul, Türkiye, 13 April 2024.  EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
People walk at the Eminonu square following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in Istanbul, Türkiye, 13 April 2024. EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
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Türkiye Detains 36 People over Alleged ISIS Ties

People walk at the Eminonu square following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in Istanbul, Türkiye, 13 April 2024.  EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
People walk at the Eminonu square following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in Istanbul, Türkiye, 13 April 2024. EPA/ERDEM SAHIN

Turkish authorities have detained 36 people over suspected ties to ISIS, in operations carried out across four provinces, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on Sunday.

In a post on social media platform X, Yerlikaya said police had seized suspects who were found to have been active within ISIS, and to have helped fund and provide supplies to the group.

Police also seized several unlicensed shotguns and pistols as part of the operations, the minister said.


2 Killed, 6 Injured in Shooting in Memphis

New York Police Department officers stand outside of a midtown Manhattan office building in New York November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
New York Police Department officers stand outside of a midtown Manhattan office building in New York November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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2 Killed, 6 Injured in Shooting in Memphis

New York Police Department officers stand outside of a midtown Manhattan office building in New York November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
New York Police Department officers stand outside of a midtown Manhattan office building in New York November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Eight people were shot including two men who were killed at an unsanctioned public party in a city park in the US state of Tennessee Saturday night, police said.
Officers responded at 7:19 p.m. to a reported shooting, Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn Davis said during a news conference at the scene.
Two men were pronounced dead at the scene, Davis said.
The six surviving victims were transported to area hospitals and one was in critical condition at Regional One Health in Memphis, police said.
The shooting occurred at a block party in Orange Mound Park, which Davis said included an estimated 200 to 300 attendees but did not appear to have been issued a city permit.
At least two people are believed to have fired weapons during the shooting and police were examining video footage as part of the ongoing investigation, Davis said. There were no immediate arrests.
“In light of recent events, we stand together to denounce these senseless acts of violence,” Davis said.
The Memphis police initially reported there were 16 people shot but revised the number in a social media post, noting the error appeared to have been a result of “several victims being reported multiple times.”


Ukrainian, Western Leaders Laud US Aid Package as Kremlin Warns of 'Further Ruin'

FILE PHOTO: The Chamber of the House of Representatives stands at the US Capitol Building in Washington. Photo taken on  December 17, 2012. TREUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Chamber of the House of Representatives stands at the US Capitol Building in Washington. Photo taken on December 17, 2012. TREUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
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Ukrainian, Western Leaders Laud US Aid Package as Kremlin Warns of 'Further Ruin'

FILE PHOTO: The Chamber of the House of Representatives stands at the US Capitol Building in Washington. Photo taken on  December 17, 2012. TREUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Chamber of the House of Representatives stands at the US Capitol Building in Washington. Photo taken on December 17, 2012. TREUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

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


Gunmen Kill 7 Customs Officials in Pakistan in 2 Attacks

View of a damaged car after a suicide blast in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2024. REUTERA/Akhtar Soomro
View of a damaged car after a suicide blast in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2024. REUTERA/Akhtar Soomro
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Gunmen Kill 7 Customs Officials in Pakistan in 2 Attacks

View of a damaged car after a suicide blast in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2024. REUTERA/Akhtar Soomro
View of a damaged car after a suicide blast in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2024. REUTERA/Akhtar Soomro

Unknown gunmen killed two customs officers in western Pakistan, officials said on Sunday, following the killing of five other customs officials in the area in recent days.
No group has claimed responsibility for the two attacks since Thursday, which police said they were investigating, Reuters reported.
Security in regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent years. Attacks, some claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), have risen, mostly targeting police and security officials.
"Customs officials were present for checks... when unknown persons opened fire," said the district deputy superintendent of police, Muhammad Adnan, adding that two people were injured and the area on a busy highway had been cordoned off.
"Three days ago, five officials, including an officer, of the customs department, were killed in a shooting in the same area and the attackers escaped," he said.
The rise in attacks has escalated tensions between Pakistan and the Afghanistan's ruling Taliban administration.
Pakistan, saying militants have been using Afghan territory to launch attacks, has called on the Taliban to take action and carried out an airstrike last month on Afghan territory.
The Taliban have denied allowing the use of Afghan soil for militancy and said Pakistan's security issues are a domestic issue for Islamabad.


US Military to Begin Plans to Withdraw Troops from Niger

The US will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger. AP
The US will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger. AP
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US Military to Begin Plans to Withdraw Troops from Niger

The US will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger. AP
The US will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger. AP

The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, US officials said Saturday, in what experts say is a blow to Washington and its allies in the region in terms of staging security operations in the Sahel. The planned departure comes as US officials said they were trying to find a new military agreement.

The prime minister of Niger, appointed by the ruling military junta, Ali Lamine Zeine, and US deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, agreed on Friday that the two nations would begin to plan the withdrawal of American troops, the US State Department told The Associated Press in an email Saturday.

A US official said there was no timeline for withdrawal besides talks set to start in the coming days about next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic discussions. An American delegation to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process will be dispatched soon.

Niger plays a central role in the US military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Niger is home to a major US air base, in the city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital, Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The US has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.
There was an attempt on the behalf of the US to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, US officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort has failed.
A separate senior US State Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about sensitive diplomatic talks, told the AP on Saturday that Niger's junta made a decision that they don't want any foreign forces in the country, including the US and that the security partnership was ending for the time being. The junta told the US that Russia's presence was to train Nigeriens on how to operate the equipment. The official said that the US had valid concerns about some of the choices the junta was making, specifically about the potential for Russian and American troops to be colocated.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the US and its allies in the region because of its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, said Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel region.

The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, US officials said Saturday, in what experts say is a blow to Washington and its allies in the region in terms of staging security operations in the Sahel. The planned departure comes as US officials said they were trying to find a new military agreement.

The prime minister of Niger, appointed by the ruling military junta, Ali Lamine Zeine, and US deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, agreed on Friday that the two nations would begin to plan the withdrawal of American troops, the US State Department told The Associated Press in an email Saturday.

A US official said there was no timeline for withdrawal besides talks set to start in the coming days about next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic discussions. An American delegation to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process will be dispatched soon.

Niger plays a central role in the US military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Niger is home to a major US air base, in the city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital, Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The US has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.
There was an attempt on the behalf of the US to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, US officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort has failed.
A separate senior US State Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about sensitive diplomatic talks, told the AP on Saturday that Niger's junta made a decision that they don't want any foreign forces in the country, including the US and that the security partnership was ending for the time being. The junta told the US that Russia's presence was to train Nigeriens on how to operate the equipment. The official said that the US had valid concerns about some of the choices the junta was making, specifically about the potential for Russian and American troops to be colocated.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the US and its allies in the region because of its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, said Peter Pham, former US special envoy for the Sahel region.


US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson. Reuters
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson. Reuters
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US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson. Reuters
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson. Reuters

The US House of Representatives on Saturday with broad bipartisan support passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners.
The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.
The Senate is set to begin considering the House-passed bill on Tuesday, with some preliminary votes that afternoon, Reuters reported. Final passage was expected sometime next week, which would clear the way for Biden to sign it into law.
The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed his thanks, saying US lawmakers moved to keep "history on the right track."
"The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger," Zelenskiy said on X.
The Biden administration is already finalizing its next assistance package for Ukraine so it can announce the new tranche of aid soon after the bill becomes law in order to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs, a White House official said.

It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress.
Biden, who had urged Congress since last year to approve the additional aid to Ukraine, said in a statement: "It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia."
The vote on passage of the Ukraine funding was 311-112. Significantly, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with only 101 in support.
"Mike Johnson is a lame duck ... he's done," far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters afterward.
She has been a leading opponent of helping Ukraine in its war against Russia and has taken steps that threaten to remove Johnson from office over this issue. Greene stopped short of doing so on Saturday, however.
During the vote, several lawmakers waved small Ukrainian flags as it became clear that element of the package was headed to passage. Johnson warned lawmakers that was a "violation of decorum."