At COP28 Summit, Activists and Officials Voice Concern over Gaza’s Environment, Devastated by War

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
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At COP28 Summit, Activists and Officials Voice Concern over Gaza’s Environment, Devastated by War

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)
Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Deir Al Balah in the southern Gaza Strip, 05 December 2023. (EPA)

As leaders, officials and activists descend on Dubai for United Nations climate talks to discuss saving Earth, another environmental crisis is nearby, and it's raising concerns among summit participants.

Devastated by a nearly two-month-long assault by Israeli airstrikes and ground fighting, large swaths of Gaza have been flattened, agricultural lands have been destroyed, olive trees that have stood for generations are scorched and dwindling water resources are contaminated. Experts warn that white phosphorus — a chemical illegal under international law that a human rights group says is in used in Israeli operations — could also be detrimental to the environment, including the air and soil. Palestinians are worried that the land could take years to recover, and activists at the summit are tying the plight of Gazans to climate justice globally.

The Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Jagan Chapagain warned during the summit that Gaza could "become an environmental catastrophe."

But with the destruction of much of Gaza's infrastructure and an exceptionally heavy human cost — over 15,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed there since October — it's impossible for the country to give climate and environment the attention it needs, said Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate change expert with the Palestinian Authority, at the summit's first-ever State of Palestine Pavilion.

"We have policies, we have indices, we have ... a lot of strategies and plans, well developed. But now we have to rethink all of what we’ve been working for the last ten years because what happened in Gaza destroyed everything," she said. "We have to build the city all over again."

She asked: "What kind of climate justice are we talking about while all the people in Palestine are endangered and their lives are lost?"

Gaza's water has long been scarce — but the war has made it even more acute. Israel cut off water pipelines and electricity, meaning desalination plants couldn't run, leading to a host of health and sanitation concerns for residents. Agriculture in Gaza, mainly olive trees and citrus fruits as well as other plants, has been decimated because of water shortages and the devastation of the land.

White phosphorus, that human rights groups say was used in densely populated areas, is illegal under international law when used on civilians. It can set buildings on fire and burn human flesh. It poses health risks for survivors and can get deep into soil and water.

War also raises climate concerns: Militaries worldwide are responsible for 5.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Conflict and Environment Observatory and Scientists for Global Responsibility, and militaries are under no obligation to report or reduce their carbon footprint.

Climate activists, who largely support calls for a ceasefire and justice for Palestinians, have centered the issue in protests at the UN talks. They say that climate justice — the idea that saving Earth from hotter temperatures is linked to more just world for everyone, especially the most vulnerable — is inextricably linked with security and freedom for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation because both crises are fueled by colonization and capitalism.

"The Palestinian struggle is a struggle for self-determination and climate justice is a struggle for self-determination," said Katherine Robinson, a climate campaigner from South Africa. "There is no climate justice in occupied territories. There’s no climate justice during war and there’s no climate justice during apartheid."

Rania Harara, from the MENA feminist task force, agreed that climate justice goes hand in hand with Palestinian solidarity.

"We cannot sit here and talk about climate justice without talking about human rights," she said, to applause from the audience at an event on Saturday.

The war on Gaza is also affecting how much funding can be diverted to climate initiatives, said Mohamed Adow, the director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think-tank.

Adow says wars and conflict are using up much needed climate cash that could have otherwise been very useful to help protect vulnerable communities from climate disaster. He used the example of Ukraine, where he says trillions of dollars were sent at a time that the international community was struggling to mobilize a hundred billion for climate finance.

"Demilitarization across the world must be a key component of climate justice," Adow said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s top diplomat for the Mideast, Oded Joseph, said Israel’s priority at the moment is fighting and protecting their civilians, with climate and environmental crises being dealt with "once we meet that objective".

The war began on Oct. 7 when an attack on Israel killed 1,200 people and was retaliated with a punishing weekslong air and later ground assault on the Gaza Strip with no end in sight. A nearly week-long temporary truce ended Friday.

But beyond the war, the wider occupation is still detrimental to efforts toward climate and environmental justice, activists say.

"Climate justice is inseparable from justice for Palestinians," said Dylan Hamilton, policy coordinator for the Alliance of Non-Governmental Radical Youth. "There can be no climate justice on occupied land."



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."


China’s FM Says Major Powers Should Avoid Rivalry in South Pacific

 People step off gangway after their visiting Chinese Navy Shijianzhuang destroyer during a media tour organised by Chinese Navy at a port in Qingdao, China's Shandong province on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
People step off gangway after their visiting Chinese Navy Shijianzhuang destroyer during a media tour organised by Chinese Navy at a port in Qingdao, China's Shandong province on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
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China’s FM Says Major Powers Should Avoid Rivalry in South Pacific

 People step off gangway after their visiting Chinese Navy Shijianzhuang destroyer during a media tour organised by Chinese Navy at a port in Qingdao, China's Shandong province on April 20, 2024. (AFP)
People step off gangway after their visiting Chinese Navy Shijianzhuang destroyer during a media tour organised by Chinese Navy at a port in Qingdao, China's Shandong province on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

China's foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday said the South Pacific region should not become an arena for major power rivalries and that its assistance to countries there is free of political conditions.

The Pacific has become a source of intense competition for influence between Washington, which has traditionally viewed it as its backyard, and Beijing, which has targeted Taiwanese diplomatic allies there.

Wang made the comments at a joint press conference with his Papua New Guinea counterpart during a visit to country.

"The South Pacific region should not become an arena for great powers to play games, and no country should treat the island countries as its own 'backyard' or engage in zero-sum games and exclusionary arrangements," Wang said.

He said any attempt to provoke confrontation in the South Pacific region does not serve the needs of its people.

"China's engagement and cooperation with the South Pacific island countries is dedicated to mutual support and assistance to achieve common development, without any geopolitical self-interest," Wang said.

He added that China is willing to maintain high-level exchanges with Papua New Guinea and open negotiations for free trade agreements as soon as possible.

State media Xinhua reported Wang saying that all parties should respect the choice of the people of Solomon Islands and refrain from interfering in their internal affairs.

The Solomon Islands' pro-China Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has retained his seat in a national election, local media reported late on Friday.

Wednesday's election was the first since Sogavare struck a security pact with China in 2022 and drew the Pacific Islands nation closer to Beijing, in moves that concerned the US and Australia because of the potential impact on regional security.


Satellite Image Analyzed by AP Shows Damage after Iranian Attack on Israeli Desert Air Base

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows Israel's Nevatim air base on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows Israel's Nevatim air base on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Satellite Image Analyzed by AP Shows Damage after Iranian Attack on Israeli Desert Air Base

This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows Israel's Nevatim air base on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite photo taken by Planet Labs PBC shows Israel's Nevatim air base on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

An Iranian attack on an Israeli desert air base last week as part of Tehran's unprecedented assault on the country damaged a taxiway, a satellite image analyzed by The Associated Press on Saturday shows.

The overall damage done to Nevatim air base in southern Israel was minor despite Iran launching hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. 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.

But the Iranian attack last weekend showed Tehran's willingness to use its vast arsenal of ballistic missiles directly against Israel as tensions remain high across the wider Middle East over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. An apparent Israeli retaliatory attack Friday on Isfahan, Iran, and Tehran's low-key response to it suggest both countries want to dial back their long-running shadow war for now — though risks of a wider conflagration in the region remain.

The Planet Labs PBC image, taken Friday for the AP, shows fresh blacktop across a taxiway near hangars at the southern part of Nevatim air base, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Jerusalem. The daily newspaper Haaretz, which published lower-resolution images of the site Thursday, identified the hangars nearby as housing C-130 cargo aircraft flown by transport squadrons.

The satellite image corresponds to footage earlier released by the Israeli military, which showed construction equipment working on the damaged taxiway. A hangar in the background of the video mirrors those seen nearby.

Other images released by the Israeli military showed a crater in the sand and damage under what appeared to be a wall that it said came from the Iranian attack. The little visible damage seen at the air base in the satellite image directly contradicts Iran's efforts to portray the attack as a great victory to a public alienated by Tehran’s cratering economy and its heavy-handed crackdowns on dissent in recent years.

“This operation became a sign of the power of the Islamic Republic and its armed forces," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Friday. “It also showed the steely determination of our nation and our wise leader, the commander of all forces.”

However, it does show Iran's arsenal has the ability to reach Israel, as the April 13 attack marked the first direct military assault on the country by a foreign nation since Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.


Venezuela’s Main Opposition Bloc Agrees on Candidate to Challenge Maduro in Presidential Election

HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
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Venezuela’s Main Opposition Bloc Agrees on Candidate to Challenge Maduro in Presidential Election

HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa

Venezuela's main opposition coalition agreed Friday to unite behind former diplomat Edmundo González as its challenger to President Nicolás Maduro in this summer's election, acting one day before the deadline to formalize its candidate.
The decision was reached unanimously by the 10 parties in the Unitary Democratic Platform, Omar Barboza, the coalition's executive secretary, said after a five-hour meeting that included discussions of other possible candidates, The Associated Press said.
The bloc had been allowed to provisionally register González on March 26 after the government came under a wave of criticism when opposition leaders said they were blocked from registering their candidate of choice. Saturday was the deadline to make his candidacy final.
The opposition group needed to replace its first candidate, María Corina Machado, who easily won a primary organized by the bloc in October but was barred by the government from running after the ruling party-controlled State Comptroller's Office disqualified her from holding public office for 15 years.
Maduro’s administration has cracked down on the opposition before the July 28 presidential election despite promises to pave the way to fair elections in exchange for sanctions relief. The Biden administration on Wednesday reimposed crushing oil sanctions, criticizing Maduro's moves.
The governments of Colombia and Brazil also have expressed concern, and Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo accused Maduro’s government of “consolidating an anti-democratic system.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil has called the criticism a “gross interference in matters that only concern Venezuelans.”
Maduro, a self-proclaimed socialist leader. officially launched his candidacy last month for a third term that would last until 2031.
The election is likely to have more than 10 candidates, but except for the main opposition coalition, none are expect to pose a threat to Maduro’s power base.


People from Myanmar Flee into Thailand after Clashes in Key Border Town

Thai soldiers and members of the media take cover near the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge during fighting on the Myanmar side between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar's troops, which continues near the Thailand-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak Province,  Thailand, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Thai soldiers and members of the media take cover near the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge during fighting on the Myanmar side between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar's troops, which continues near the Thailand-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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People from Myanmar Flee into Thailand after Clashes in Key Border Town

Thai soldiers and members of the media take cover near the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge during fighting on the Myanmar side between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar's troops, which continues near the Thailand-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak Province,  Thailand, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Thai soldiers and members of the media take cover near the 2nd Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge during fighting on the Myanmar side between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Myanmar's troops, which continues near the Thailand-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand, April 20, 2024. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

About 1,300 people have fled from eastern Myanmar into Thailand, officials said Saturday, as fresh fighting erupted at a border town that has recently been captured by ethnic guerillas.
Fighters from the Karen ethnic minority last week captured the last of the Myanmar army’s outposts in and around Myawaddy, which is connected to Thailand by two bridges across the Moei River, The Associated Press said.
The latest clashes were triggered in the morning when the Karen guerillas launched an attack against Myanmar troops who were hiding near the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, a major crossing point for trade with Thailand, said police chief Pittayakorn Phetcharat in Thailand's Mae Sot district. He estimated about 1,300 people fled into Thailand.
Thai officials reported people had started crossing since Friday following clashes in several areas of Myawaddy.
The fall of Myawaddy is a major setback for the military that seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021. Myanmar’s once-mighty armed forces have suffered a series of unprecedented defeats since last October, losing swathes of territory including border posts to both ethnic fighters, who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades, and pro-democracy guerrilla units that took up arms after the military takeover.
The clashes, involving drone attacks from the Karen forces and airstrikes by the Myanmar military, had subsided by noon Saturday compared to the morning, but Mae Sot police chief Pittayakorn Phetcharat said he could still hear sporadic gunshots. He said Thai authorities would move people fleeing into a safer area.
Footage from the Thai border showed Thai soldiers maintaining guard near the bridge with sounds of explosions and gunshots in the background. People with children walked across the bridge with their belongings and were received by Thai officials on the river bank. Several are seen taking shelter in buildings along the river bank on the Myanmar side.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wrote on the social media platform X on Saturday that he was closely monitoring the situation at the border.
“I do not desire to see any such clashes have any impact on the territorial integrity of Thailand and we are ready to protect our borders and the safety of our people. At the same time, we are also ready to provide humanitarian assistance if necessary,” he wrote.
In March, Thailand delivered its first batch of humanitarian assistance to Myanmar for about 20,000 displaced people.
Nikorndej Balangura, a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Friday that Thailand is currently working to expand its aid initiative.


Moscow Says 50 Ukrainian Drones Shot Down as Attacks Spark Fires at Russian Power Stations

 Russian rockets are launched against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region, seen from Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP)
Russian rockets are launched against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region, seen from Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP)
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Moscow Says 50 Ukrainian Drones Shot Down as Attacks Spark Fires at Russian Power Stations

 Russian rockets are launched against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region, seen from Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP)
Russian rockets are launched against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region, seen from Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP)

Ukraine launched a barrage of drones across Russia overnight, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said Saturday, in attacks that appeared to target the country’s energy infrastructure.

Fifty drones were shot down by air defenses over eight Russian regions, including 26 over the country’s western Belgorod region close to the Ukrainian border. Two people — a woman with a broken leg and the man caring for her — died during the barrage, after explosions sparked a blaze that set their home alight, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on social media.

Drones were also reportedly destroyed over the Bryansk, Kursk, Tula, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga regions across Russia’s west and south, as well as in the Moscow region.

Ukrainian officials normally decline comment about attacks on Russian soil. However, many of the drone strikes appeared to be directed toward Russia’s energy infrastructure.

The head of the Kaluga region, Vladislav Shapsha, said Saturday that a drone strike had sparked a blaze at an electrical substation, while Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz and Smolensk Gov. Vasily Anokhin also reported fires at fuel and energy complexes.

In recent months, Russian refineries and oil terminals have become priority targets of Ukrainian drone attacks, part of stepped-up assaults on Russian territory.

Ukrainian drone developers have been extending the weapons’ range for months, as Kyiv attempts to compensate for its battlefield disadvantage in weapons and troops. The unmanned aerial vehicles are also an affordable option while Ukraine waits for more US military aid.

Meanwhile, Russia attacked Ukraine overnight with seven missiles, and air defenses downed two missiles and three reconnaissance drones, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.

Gov. Oleh Kiper, head of Ukraine’s Odesa region, said that ballistic missiles had damaged infrastructure overnight, but did not provide further details. Previous attacks on the Black Sea city on Friday damaged port infrastructure, including two food export terminals, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Russian shelling also killed a 50-year-old man in the city of Vovchansk, said Gov. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

A 60-year-old woman was also injured after shelling struck a nine-story apartment block, he said.


Man Who Set Himself on Fire outside Trump Trial Dies of Injuries, Police Say

A fire extinguisher sits in a park outside of Manhattan Criminal Court where a man set himself on fire Friday afternoon on April 19, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
A fire extinguisher sits in a park outside of Manhattan Criminal Court where a man set himself on fire Friday afternoon on April 19, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Man Who Set Himself on Fire outside Trump Trial Dies of Injuries, Police Say

A fire extinguisher sits in a park outside of Manhattan Criminal Court where a man set himself on fire Friday afternoon on April 19, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
A fire extinguisher sits in a park outside of Manhattan Criminal Court where a man set himself on fire Friday afternoon on April 19, 2024 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)

A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial is on trial has died, police said.

The New York City Police Department said the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.

The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.

A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition.

The man, who police said had traveled from Florida to New York in the last few days, hadn't breached any security checkpoints to get into the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.

Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.

Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.

“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.