Pentagon Video Shows Damage to Downed US Drone After Russia Jet Flyby

A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
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Pentagon Video Shows Damage to Downed US Drone After Russia Jet Flyby

A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

The Pentagon released on Thursday a video showing a Russian military jet intercept a US drone downed over the Black Sea two days ago, in what was the first direct encounter between the world's leading nuclear powers since the Ukraine war began.

The rare Pentagon move came a day after US and Russian defense ministers and military chiefs held phone conversations over the incident that saw the MQ-9 Reaper drone crash into the sea while on a reconnaissance mission in international airspace.

In the declassified, roughly 40-second video, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet comes very close to the drone and dumps what US officials say was jet fuel near it in an apparent effort to damage the American aircraft as it flew over the Black Sea.

It also shows the loss of the video feed after a second pass by a Russian jet, which the Pentagon says resulted from its collision with the drone. The video ends with images of the drone's damaged propeller, which the Pentagon says resulted from the collision, making the aircraft inoperable.

Russia has denied any collision and said the drone crashed after making "sharp maneuvers", having "provocatively" flown close to Russian air space near Crimea, which Moscow forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

"There is a pattern of behavior recently where there is a little bit more aggressive actions being conducted by the Russians," General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday.

Milley said it was clear that the intercept and harassment of the drone by Russian jets was intentional, but it was unclear whether the Russian pilots meant to slam their aircraft into the drone - a move that could also put them at risk.

‘Escalation’

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his US counterpart that US drone flights near Crimea's coast "were provocative in nature" and could lead to "an escalation ... in the Black Sea zone," a ministry statement said.

Russia, the statement said, has "no interest" in escalation "but will in future react in due proportion" and the two countries should "act with a maximum of responsibility", including by having military lines of communication in a crisis.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to offer details about his conversation with Shoigu, but said the United States would continue "to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent on Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner".

Russia has said the episode showed Washington was directly participating in the Ukraine war, something the West has taken pains to avoid.

"The Americans keep saying they're not taking part in military operations. This is the latest confirmation that they are directly participating in these activities - in the war," Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said.

The United States has supported Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in military aid but says its troops have not become directly engaged in the war, which Moscow portrays as a conflict against the combined might of the West.

‘Complex’ Bakhmut battle

The drone incident came as Russia kept up a months-long drive to capture the small eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, in what would be its first substantial victory in more than half a year.

The Russian-installed leader of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region said on Thursday the situation around the now-ruined city remained "complex and difficult" as Kyiv refused to withdraw its forces.

"That is, we do not see that there is any premise that the enemy is going to simply withdraw units," Denis Pushilin said in an interview on state TV.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said this week his military top brass had advised reinforcing Bakhmut.

Kyiv had appeared last month to be preparing to pull out of the city but has since decided to defend it, saying it is exhausting Russia's attacking force there to pave the way for its own counter-attack.

In its daily intelligence update on the Ukraine war, Britain's defense ministry said on Thursday Russian attempts to capture the town of Vuhledar, about 150 km (93 miles) southwest of Bakhmut, had "almost certainly slowed" after repeated, very costly failed attacks over the last three months.

To the north of Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops in a bombed out village near the city of Kreminna battled to counter what they said was an attempt by Russia to undertake a giant pincer move.

"The Russians try to adapt in real time," said a member of a drone unit call-signed "Zara". "This makes great problems for us, because we have to think a couple of steps ahead - how do successfully complete the mission and not let the enemy know how we did it."

The war has resulted in the destruction of Ukrainian towns and cities, the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the flight of millions from their homes. It has also rocked the global economy, pushing up energy and food prices.

President Vladimir Putin, meeting members of Russia's business elite on Thursday for the first time since the invasion, urged them to invest in their country to help it weather what he called the West's "sanctions war".

Many of those attending the meeting are themselves under Western sanctions because of what Putin calls Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine.



Trump's Hush Money Trial Set to Resume with 3rd Day of Witness Testimony

Former US President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan Supreme Court on the 6th day of the hush money trial against him on April 23 2024. Curtis Means/Pool via REUTERS
Former US President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan Supreme Court on the 6th day of the hush money trial against him on April 23 2024. Curtis Means/Pool via REUTERS
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Trump's Hush Money Trial Set to Resume with 3rd Day of Witness Testimony

Former US President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan Supreme Court on the 6th day of the hush money trial against him on April 23 2024. Curtis Means/Pool via REUTERS
Former US President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan Supreme Court on the 6th day of the hush money trial against him on April 23 2024. Curtis Means/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump was expected to return to court Thursday morning as witness testimony in his hush money trial enters a third day.
The trial resumes at the same time that the US Supreme Court hears arguments in Washington over whether he should be immune from prosecution for actions he took during his time as president, The Associated Press said.
At his trial in Manhattan, veteran tabloid publisher David Pecker took the stand earlier in the week, testifying about his longtime friendship with the former president and a pledge he made to be the “eyes and ears” of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Pecker, the National Enquirer’s former publisher, said the pledge culminated in an agreement to warn Trump’s personal lawyer about potentially damaging stories and help quash them. Pecker said the tabloid ultimately ran negative stories about Trump’s political opponents and even paid $30,000 for a doorman’s silence.
Pecker was expected to return to the stand Thursday.
The testimony was sought to bolster prosecutors’ premise that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 election through a “catch-and-kill” strategy to buy up and then spike negative stories. Key to that premise are so-called hush money payments that were paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, along with the doorman.
Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of those payments and falsely recorded them as legal expenses.
He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury.


Nigeria: More Than 100 Inmates Escape after Rain Damages Prison

Volunteers from Sustyvibes, a Non-profit organization, pick up trash on a street near a market ahead of World Earth Day, in Lagos, Nigeria, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Volunteers from Sustyvibes, a Non-profit organization, pick up trash on a street near a market ahead of World Earth Day, in Lagos, Nigeria, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Nigeria: More Than 100 Inmates Escape after Rain Damages Prison

Volunteers from Sustyvibes, a Non-profit organization, pick up trash on a street near a market ahead of World Earth Day, in Lagos, Nigeria, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Volunteers from Sustyvibes, a Non-profit organization, pick up trash on a street near a market ahead of World Earth Day, in Lagos, Nigeria, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

At least 118 inmates escaped from prison after heavy rains on Wednesday night damaged the facility in Suleja near the Nigerian capital, a prison service spokesperson said.

Service agents were hunting the fugitives and had so far recaptured 10 of them, spokesperson Adama Duza said in a statement on Thursday.

"We are in hot chase to recapture the rest," Duza said.

The statement gave no details on the identities or affiliation of the escaped prisoners but in the past members of the Boko Haram insurgent group have been locked up in Suleja prison.


3rd Man Detained in Bribery Case Surrounding Russian Deputy Defense Minister

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
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3rd Man Detained in Bribery Case Surrounding Russian Deputy Defense Minister

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

A third man has been detained in a bribery investigation centering on Deputy Russian Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, the Moscow court service said on Thursday.
It said Alexander Fomin, the co-founder of a construction company called Olimpsitistroy, was suspected of paying bribes to Ivanov, who was detained on Tuesday, and Sergei Borodin, a close associate of Ivanov who is also in custody.
The scandal is the biggest in years to hit the defense ministry, and is seen as a severe blow to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The court service said Fomin was suspected of "providing services" to Ivanov, Borodin and others in the form of goods, work and services relating to property renovation.
"Also, Fomin and other persons, acting as an organized group, contributed to Ivanov's receipt of a particularly large bribe in the form of the illegal provision of property-related services to him," it said.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday dismissed media speculation about the reasons behind the arrest of Ivanov on bribery charges, and urged reporters to focus on official information.
Asked about a report that Ivanov was suspected of treason, Peskov said: "There are many different interpretations around all this now."
"You need to focus on official information," Peskov said. "It is necessary to focus on the information of the investigative authorities and, ultimately, on the court's decision."

Ivanov was detained on Tuesday at work by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Moscow's Basmanny District Court ordered Ivanov be kept in custody until June 23. Ivanov, 48, dressed in his uniform, was shown standing in a glass cage in court, frowning slightly, footage released by the court service showed.


Malala Yousafzai Vows Support for Gaza after Backlash

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
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Malala Yousafzai Vows Support for Gaza after Backlash

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Thursday condemned Israel and reaffirmed her support for Palestinians in Gaza, after a backlash in her native Pakistan over a Broadway musical she co-produced with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, has been condemned by some for partnering with Clinton, an outspoken supporter of Israel's war against Hamas.
The musical, titled "Suffs," depicts the American women's suffrage campaign for the right to vote in the 20th century and has been playing in New York since last week, said AFP.
"I want there to be no confusion about my support for the people of Gaza," Yousafzai wrote on X, the former Twitter. "We do not need to see more dead bodies, bombed schools and starving children to understand that a ceasefire is urgent and necessary."
She added: "I have and will continue to condemn the Israeli government for its violations of international law and war crimes."
Pakistan has seen many fiercely emotional pro-Palestinian protests since the war in Gaza began last October.
Yusafzai's "theatre collaboration with Hillary Clinton -- who stands for America's unequivocal support for genocide of Palestinians -- is a huge blow to her credibility as a human rights activist," popular Pakistani columnist Mehr Tarar wrote on social media platform X on Wednesday.
"I consider it utterly tragic."
Whilst Clinton has backed a military campaign to remove Hamas and rejected demands for a ceasefire, she has also explicitly called for protections for Palestinian civilians.
Yousafzai has publicly condemned the civilian casualties and called for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The New York Times reported the 26-year-old wore a red-and-black pin to the "Suffs" premier last Thursday, signifying her support for a ceasefire.
But author and academic Nida Kirmani said on X that Yousafzai's decision to partner with Clinton was "maddening and heartbreaking at the same time. What an utter disappointment."
The war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of around 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Hamas also abducted 250 people and Israel estimates 129 of them remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.
Clinton served as America's top diplomat during former president Barack Obama's administration, which oversaw a campaign of drone strikes targeting Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan's borderlands.
Yousafzai earned her Nobel Peace Prize after being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban as she pushed for girls' education as a teenager in 2012.
However, the drone war killed and maimed scores of civilians in Yousafzai's home region, spurring more online criticism of the youngest Nobel Laureate, who earned the prize at 17.
Yousafzai is often viewed with suspicion in Pakistan, where critics accuse her of pushing a Western feminist and liberal political agenda on the conservative country.


Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling for Prevention of Dangerous Nuclear Arms Race in Space

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
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Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling for Prevention of Dangerous Nuclear Arms Race in Space

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

Russia on Wednesday vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space, calling it “a dirty spectacle” that cherry picks weapons of mass destruction from all other weapons that should also be banned.
The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13 in favor, Russia opposed and China abstaining, the Associated Press reported.
The resolution would have called on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under a 1967 international treaty that included the US and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space.
“Today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding,” she asked. “It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”
Putin was responding to White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Wednesday echoed Thomas-Greenfield, reiterating that “the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device.” If Putin has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, Sullivan said, “Russia would not have vetoed this resolution.”
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the resolution as “absolutely absurd and politicized,” and said it didn’t go far enough in banning all types of weapons in space.
Russia and China proposed an amendment to the US-Japan draft that would call on all countries, especially those with major space capabilities, “to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space, and the threat of use of force in outer spaces.”
The vote was 7 countries in favor, 7 against, and one abstention and the amendment was defeated because it failed to get the minimum 9 “yes” votes required for adoption.
The US opposed the amendment, and after the vote Nebenzia addressed the US ambassador saying: “We want a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, not just WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). But you don’t want that. And let me ask you that very same question. Why?”
He said much of the US and Japan’s actions become clear “if we recall that the US and their allies announced some time ago plans to place weapons ... in outer space.”
Nebenzia accused the US of blocking a Russian-Chinese proposal since 2008 for a treaty against putting weapons in outer space.
Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of undermining global treaties to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, irresponsibly invoking “dangerous nuclear rhetoric,” walking away from several of its arms control obligations, and refusing to engage “in substantive discussions around arms control or risk reduction.”
She called Wednesday’s vote “a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s announcement of the resolution on March 18 followed White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.
Putin declared later that Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, claiming that the country has only developed space capabilities similar to those of the US.
Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote that the world is just beginning to understand “the catastrophic ramifications of a nuclear explosion in space.”
It could destroy “thousands of satellites operated by countries and companies around the world — and wipe out the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial, and national security services we all depend on,” she said.
The defeated draft resolution said “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.” It would have urged all countries carrying out activities in exploring and using outer space to comply with international law and the UN Charter.
The draft would have affirmed that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must comply with their obligations not to put in orbit around the Earth “any objects” with weapons of mass destruction, or install them “on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space.”
The treaty, ratified by some 114 countries, including the US and Russia, prohibits the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” in orbit or the stationing of “weapons in outer space in any other manner.”
The draft resolution emphasized “the necessity of further measures, including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects.”
It reiterated that the UN Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, has the primary responsibility to negotiate agreements on preventing an arms race in outer space.
The 65-nation body has achieved few results and has largely devolved into a venue for countries to voice criticism of others’ weapons programs or defend their own. The draft resolution would have urged the conference “to adopt and implement a balanced and comprehensive program of work.”
At the March council meeting where the U.S.-Japan initiative was launched, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades.”
He said the movie “Oppenheimer” about Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the US project during World War II that developed the atomic bomb, “brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world.”
“Humanity cannot survive a sequel to Oppenheimer,” the UN chief said.


In China, Blinken Urges Fair Treatment of American Companies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
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In China, Blinken Urges Fair Treatment of American Companies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on China to provide a level playing field for American businesses as he began a visit aimed at resolving a raft of contentious issues that could jeopardize the newly repaired relationship.
Blinken's trip is the latest high-level contact between the two nations that, along with working groups on issues from global trade to military communication, have tempered the public acrimony that drove relations to historic lows early last year, Reuters said.
But Washington and Beijing have been increasingly at odds over how American companies operate in China, Chinese exports and manufacturing capacity, and strains are also growing over Beijing's backing of Russia in its war in Ukraine.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that at a meeting with China's top official in Shanghai, Chen Jining, Blinken raised concerns about China's "trade policies and non-market economic practices."
Blinken also "stressed that the United States seeks a healthy economic competition with the PRC and a level playing field for US workers and firms operating in China."
The PRC, or People's Republic of China, is the country's official name.
China has dismissed as groundless criticism that its manufacturing capacity is excessive, adding that its industries, ranging from electric vehicles to solar panels, are competitive and innovative.
Chen said through translators that the recent call between the leaders of both countries had helped the "stable and healthy development of our two countries' relationship", adding: "Whether we choose cooperation or confrontation affects the well-being of both peoples, both countries, and the future of humanity."
While in Shanghai, Blinken also spoke with American and Chinese students at New York University's local campus, where he said intercultural interactions were "the best way to make sure that we start by hopefully understanding one another".
SUPPORT FOR RUSSIA
Blinken will head to Beijing on Friday for talks with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and possibly President Xi Jinping. Those meetings could be fraught.
Just as Blinken landed in Shanghai, President Joe Biden signed a rare bipartisan bill that included $8 billion to counter China's military might, as well as billions in defense aid for Taiwan and $61 billion in aid to Ukraine.
Biden also signed a separate bill tied to the aid legislation that bans TikTok in the US if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.
Blinken will press China to stop its firms from retooling and resupplying Russia's defense industrial base. Moscow invaded Ukraine days after agreeing a "no limits" partnership with Beijing, and while China has steered clear of providing arms, US officials warn Chinese companies are sending dual-use technology that helps Russia's war effort.
Without providing details, a senior State Department official told reporters that Washington was prepared to "take steps" against Chinese firms it believes are damaging US and European security.
State-run China Daily said in an editorial that there was "a huge question mark over what the discussions between Blinken and his hosts can yield" and that both sides "have been largely talking past each other."
"On the conflict in Ukraine, the world can see it clearly that the Ukraine issue is not an issue between China and the US, and the US side should not turn it into one," it said.
Other state media also highlighted the tensions over the differences. "Plenty of animosity remains, primarily fuelled by Washington's adherence to a zero-sum mindset and framing China as a threat," a commentary in state-run Xinhua news agency said.


Iran Sentences Rapper Toomaj Salehi to Death over 2022-23 Unrest, Lawyer Tells Paper

Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
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Iran Sentences Rapper Toomaj Salehi to Death over 2022-23 Unrest, Lawyer Tells Paper

Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)

An Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced well-known Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi to death for charges linked to Iran's 2022-23 unrest, his lawyer told Iranian newspaper Sharq on Wednesday.

Salehi in his songs supported months of protests in Iran in 2022 sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman arrested for allegedly wearing an "improper" hijab.

Salehi was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the nationwide protests.

He was sentenced in 2023 to six years and three months in prison, but avoided a death sentence due to a Supreme Court ruling.

"Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of (the central city of) Isfahan in an unprecedented move, did not enforce the Supreme Court's ruling .... and sentenced Salehi to the harshest punishment," his lawyer Amir Raisian told Sharq.

Iranian judiciary has not confirmed the sentence yet. Salehi has 20 days to appeal the ruling.

"We will definitely appeal this verdict," his lawyer said.


Biden Signs Ukraine Aid, TikTok Ban Bills after Republican Battle

US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Biden Signs Ukraine Aid, TikTok Ban Bills after Republican Battle

US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)

President Joe Biden signed a hard-fought bill into law on Wednesday that provides billions of dollars of new US aid to Ukraine for its war with Russia, notching a rare bipartisan victory for the president as he seeks reelection and ending months of wrangling with Republicans in Congress.

"It gives vital support to America 's partners so they can defend themselves from threats to their sovereignty," Biden said, adding that the flow of weapons to Ukraine would start in the next few hours.

The bill includes $61 billion in aid to Ukraine and $26 billion for Israel, as well as $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and $8 billion to counter China's military might.

Biden, a Democrat who is expected to face Republican former President Donald Trump in the November election, has pressed lawmakers for six months to approve more funding for Ukraine, which has been fighting a full-scale Russian invasion for more than two years. Trump objected to the Ukraine aid, and some Republicans in Congress refused to back it, questioning whether Ukraine could ever prevail.

"They’re a fighting force with the will and the skill to win," Biden said of Ukraine’s military, as he blamed "MAGA Republicans" loyal to Trump for blocking aid, referring to Trump's Make America Great Again slogan.

Biden also signed a separate bill tied to the aid legislation that bans TikTok in the United States if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.

The social media platform is particularly popular with left-leaning young Americans, a group crucial to Biden's victory in November.

Congress's stalemate on the Ukraine aid bill ended when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives abruptly changed course and approved four bills that included funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other US partners in the Indo-Pacific on Saturday.

Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson held intense talks about Ukraine in February and the president has both pleaded with Republicans to back the package and scolded them for not doing so. Johnson, who faces calls by some right-leaning Republicans to oust him for his turnaround on aid, met with Trump in Florida earlier this month; the former president said Johnson was "doing a really good job."

The US Senate followed the House on Tuesday evening, passing a sweeping bill that provides $61 billion in aid to the country, which has suffered setbacks in the war that supporters blame on the delay in getting the additional US funding.

"Congress has passed my legislation to strengthen our national security and send a message to the world about the power of American leadership: We stand resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression," Biden said in a statement after the Senate vote on Tuesday.

He said he would sign the bill on Wednesday.

Heather Conley, an expert on European affairs, said the victory for US allies and for Biden was tempered by effects that the delay has had for Kiev on the battlefield.

"This is a strong message of American leadership at a time of enormous instability, but the delay created cracks in that credibility," said Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. "As we start rolling into the election, that credibility will continue to be under close scrutiny."

Biden has argued that he helped restore US credibility on the world stage after Trump's tumultuous four-year tenure, in part by strengthening the NATO alliance and providing a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has argued for an "America First" policy and has threatened to let NATO allies fend for themselves if they do not increase their defense spending.

Biden's administration is already preparing a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the first to be sourced from the bill, two US officials told Reuters.

Republicans who backed the aid package said it was not a vote for Biden but a reflection of their party’s values.

“Peace through strength. That's our tradition," Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, said in a Senate speech. "To my Republican colleagues and friends in the Senate, our tradition is much more serious. It's prouder. And I will tell you this: It's much more supported by the American people. Peace through strength, not American retreat."


Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun a critical trip to China armed with a strengthened diplomatic hand following Senate approval of a foreign aid package that will provide billions of dollars in assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as force TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform - all areas of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Blinken arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday just hours after the Senate vote on the long-stalled legislation and shortly before President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law to demonstrate US resolve in defending its allies and partners. Passage of the bill will add further complications to an already complex relationship that has been strained by disagreements over numerous global and regional disputes.

Still, the fact that Blinken is making the trip — shortly after a conversation between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a similar visit to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a call between the US and Chinese defense chiefs — is a sign the two sides are at least willing to discuss their differences.

Of primary interest to China, the bill sets aside $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the broader Indo-Pacific and gives China’s ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok with a possible three-month extension if a sale is in progress. China has railed against US assistance to Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province, and immediately condemned the move as a dangerous provocation. It also strongly opposes efforts to force TikTok’s sale.

The bill also allots $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, and $61 billion for Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s invasion. The Biden administration has been disappointed in China’s response to the war in Gaza and has complained loudly that Chinese support for Russia’s military-industrial sector has allowed Moscow to subvert Western sanctions and ramp up attacks on Ukraine.

Even before Blinken landed in Shanghai — where he will have meetings on Thursday before traveling to Beijing — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office slammed the assistance to Taipei, saying it “seriously violates” US commitments to China, “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces” and pushes the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

China and the United States are the major players in the Indo-Pacific and Washington has become increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in recent years toward Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries with which it has significant territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and has vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily boosted military support and sales for Taiwan, much to Chinese anger.

A senior State Department official said last week that Blinken would “underscore, both in private and public, America’s abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We think that is vitally important for the region and the world.”

In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas.

In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate maritime activities by others in the sea, notably the Philippines and Vietnam. That was a major topic of concern this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.

On Ukraine, which US officials say will be a primary topic of conversation during Blinken’s visit, the Biden administration said that Chinese support has allowed Russia to largely reconstitute its defense industrial base, affecting not only the war in Ukraine but posing a threat to broader European security.

“If China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said last week.

China says it has the right to trade with Russia and accuses the US of fanning the flames by arming and funding Ukraine. “It is extremely hypocritical and irresponsible for the US to introduce a large-scale aid bill for Ukraine while making groundless accusations against normal economic and trade exchanges between China and Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.

On the Middle East, US officials, from Biden on down, have repeatedly appealed to China to use any leverage it may have with Iran to prevent Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza from spiraling into a wider regional conflict.

While China appears to have been generally receptive to such calls — particularly because it depends heavily on oil imports from Iran and other Mideast nations — tensions have steadily increased since the beginning of the Gaza war in October and more recent direct strikes and counterstrikes between Israel and Iran.

Blinken has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, several times urging China to tell Iran to restrain the proxy groups it has supported in the region, including Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

The senior State Department official said Blinken would reiterate the US interest in China using “whatever channels or influence it has to try to convey the need for restraint to all parties, including Iran.”


China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
TT

China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)

China on Wednesday blasted the latest package of US military assistance to Taiwan on Wednesday, saying that such funding was pushing the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

The US Senate late Tuesday passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. China claims the entire island of Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

The mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office said the aid “seriously violates” US commitments to China and “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian added that Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which won a third four-year presidential term in January, is willing to “become a pawn for external forces to use Taiwan to contain China, bringing Taiwan into a dangerous situation.”

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the aid package would “strengthen the deterrence against authoritarianism in the West Pacific ally chain” and “help ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also boost confidence in the region.”

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

The package covers a wide range of parts and services aimed at maintaining and upgrading Taiwan’s military hardware. Separately, Taiwan has signed billions in contracts with the US for latest-generation F-16V fighter jets, M1 Abrams main battle tanks and the HIMARS rocket system, which the US has also supplied to Ukraine.

Taiwan has also been expanding its own defense industry, building submarines and trainer jets. Next month, it plans to commission its third and fourth domestically designed and built stealth corvettes to counter the Chinese navy as part of a strategy of asymmetrical warfare, in which a smaller force counters its larger opponent by using cutting edge or nonconventional tactics and weaponry.

China launches daily incursions into waters and airspace around Taiwan by navy ships and warplanes. It has also sought to pick away Taiwan’s few remaining formal diplomatic partners.

However, only two People's Liberation Army Air Force planes and seven navy vessels were found operating in areas around Taiwan between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, possibly as a result of heavy rainstorms and low visibility overnight along the island's west coast facing China.

At times of heightened tensions, China has launched dozens of such missions over a 24-hour period, many of them crossing the center line in the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides or entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone.