US, S.Korea Defense Chiefs Vow to Increase Drills, Cooperation to Counter North Korea

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup (R) leave after a ceremonial welcome at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup (R) leave after a ceremonial welcome at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
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US, S.Korea Defense Chiefs Vow to Increase Drills, Cooperation to Counter North Korea

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup (R) leave after a ceremonial welcome at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup (R) leave after a ceremonial welcome at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on January 31, 2023. (AFP)

The defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea vowed on Tuesday to expand military drills and boost nuclear deterrence planning to counter North Korea's weapons development and prevent a war.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Seoul for talks as Washington seeks to reassure a key Asian ally over its nuclear commitment amid growing threats from North Korea.

Austin met with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, following their annual security talks in November in Washington, and was due to meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol before flying to the Philippines.

The latest meeting comes as South Korea pushes to bolster confidence in American extended deterrence - its military capability, especially nuclear forces, to deter attacks on its allies.

Nuclear-armed North Korea launched an unprecedented number of missiles last year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the US mainland. Officials from both the United States and South Korea have also warned Pyongyang could be preparing for its first test of a nuclear device since 2017.

The North's evolving threats have revived calls from some politicians and experts in South Korea for bringing back US tactical nuclear weapons or even a South Korean nuclear program, though Seoul officials dismissed such a possibility.

In a joint statement, the defense chiefs said they had agreed to boost information sharing and joint planning.

They also committed to expand the "level and scale" of this year's combined military exercises, and to deploy more US strategic assets, such as aircraft carriers and bombers.

More than 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.

Pyongyang has denounced the joint drills as proof of the allies' hostile intentions, and has staged its own military shows of force.

Austin said his trip was aimed at deepening cooperation to tackle shared security challenges and reaffirm the US extended deterrence commitment to South Korea as "ironclad" at a time of heightened tension and provocation.

"That's why the United States and the ROK are taking clear, meaningful steps to modernize and strengthen our alliance," Austin said in a special op-ed release on Tuesday by Yonhap news agency, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name, the Republic of Korea.

"So our adversaries and competitors know that if they challenge one of us, they are challenging the US-ROK alliance as a whole," he added.

Lee has said the two countries will hold nuclear tabletop exercises in February under the scenario of North Korea's nuclear attacks, as part of efforts to improve joint nuclear planning and implementation and boost information sharing.

Austin said the exercises are in line with the allies' talks to expand extended deterrence activities and mechanisms on the peninsula and in the region.



Europe Suffered Record Number of 'Extreme Heat Stress' Days in 2023

In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
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Europe Suffered Record Number of 'Extreme Heat Stress' Days in 2023

In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire. Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP/File

Europe endured a record number of "extreme heat stress" days in 2023, two leading climate monitors said Monday, underscoring the threat of increasingly deadly summers across the continent.
In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire, said AFP.
These disasters inflicted billions of dollars in damages and impacted more than two million people, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a new joint report.
The consequences for health were particularly acute, with heat singled out by these agencies as the biggest climate-related threat as global warming drives ever-hotter European summers.
"We're seeing an increasing trend in the number of days with heat stress across Europe and 2023 was no exception, with Europe seeing a record number of days with extreme heat stress," said Rebecca Emerton, a climate scientist at Copernicus.
For this study, Copernicus and WMO used the Universal Thermal Climate Index, which measures the effect of the environment on the human body.
It takes into account not just high temperatures but also humidity, wind speed, sunshine, and heat emitted by the surroundings.
The index has 10 different categories of heat and cold stress, with units of degrees Celsius representing a 'feels-like' temperature.
Extreme heat stress "is equivalent to a feels-like temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point it's imperative to take actions to avoid health risks such as heat stroke", said Emerton.
- 'Extended summer' -
Prolonged exposure to heat stress is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.
The effect of heat is stronger in cities, the report said.

Twenty three of the 30 worst heatwaves on record in Europe have occurred this century and heat-related deaths have soared around 30 percent in the past 20 years, the report said.
2023 was not the hottest summer in Europe -- in fact, it was the fifth -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't blazing.
Much of Europe sweltered from heatwaves during an "extended summer" between June and September, Emerton said.
September was the warmest on record for Europe as a whole, she added.
On July 23, an unprecedented 13 percent of Europe was experiencing high levels of heat stress, with southern Europe the worst affected.
The data on deaths in Europe from extreme heat in 2023 is not available yet.
But tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died due to heatwaves during equally sweltering European summers in 2003, 2010 and 2022, the report said.
"We see that there is excess mortality when we see such extreme heatwaves like was the case in 2023," said Alvaro Silva, a climatologist from WMO.
"This increase in mortality... is affecting (the) big majority of European regions. This is a big concern."
Serious consequences
Scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, causing more intense and frequent extreme weather events.
Europe is warming twice as fast as the global average and heatwaves will become longer and more powerful in future, the report said.
This -- coupled with aging populations and more people moving to cities -- will have "serious consequences for public health", it added.
"Current heatwave interventions will soon be insufficient to deal with the expected heat-related health burden."
2023 was the hottest year globally on record and oceans, which absorb 90 percent of excess heat produced by carbon dioxide emissions, also warmed to new highs.
Average sea surface temperatures in Europe were the warmest on record, the report said, with a severe marine heatwave in part of the Atlantic Ocean described as "beyond extreme".
Glaciers in all parts of Europe saw a loss of ice, while Greece suffered the largest wildfire in the history of the EU.
2023 was also one of Europe's wettest years, with major flooding affecting 1.6 million people, and storms another 550,000.
Emerton said that the economic cost of these extreme events was 13.4 billion euros ($14.3 billion) -- about 80 percent attributed to flooding.


Iran's Supreme Leader Tacitly Acknowledges that Tehran Hit Little in Its Attack on Israel

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Iran's Supreme Leader Tacitly Acknowledges that Tehran Hit Little in Its Attack on Israel

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Iran's supreme leader on Sunday dismissed any discussion of whether Tehran's unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel hit anything there, a tacit acknowledgment that despite launching a major assault, few projectiles actually made it through to their targets.
Ali Khamenei's comments before senior military leaders didn't touch on the apparent Israeli retaliatory strike on Friday on the central city of Isfahan, even though air defenses opened fire and Iran grounded commercial flights across much of the country, The Associated Press said.
Analysts believe both Iran and Israel, regional archrivals locked in a shadow war for years, are trying to dial back tensions following a series of escalatory attacks between them as the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip rages on and inflames the wider region.
Khamenei, 85, made the comments in a meeting attended by the top ranks of Iran's regular military, police and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, a powerful force within its Shiite theocracy.
“Debates by the other party about how many missiles were fired, how many of them hit the target and how many didn’t, these are of secondary importance," Khamenei said in remarks aired by state television.
“The main issue is the emergence of the Iranian nation and Iranian military’s will in an important international arena. This is what matters.”
Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that sought to overwhelm Israel's air defenses in the April 13 attack .
However, Israeli air defenses and fighter jets, backed by the US, the United Kingdom and neighboring Jordan, shot down the vast majority of the incoming fire.
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.
Iran's attack came in response to a suspected Israeli strike on April 1 targeting a consular building next to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, which killed two Guard generals and others.
“Today, thanks to the work done by our armed forces, the Revolutionary Guard, the army, the police, each in its own way, praise be to Allah the image of the country around the world has become commendable," added Khamenei, despite Iran facing public anger over its economy and crackdowns on dissent.


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.