Iran Marks 45th Anniversary of Revolution Amid Regional Tensions

A woman raises a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as people gather to mark the 45th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on February 11, 2024 (AFP)
A woman raises a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as people gather to mark the 45th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on February 11, 2024 (AFP)
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Iran Marks 45th Anniversary of Revolution Amid Regional Tensions

A woman raises a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as people gather to mark the 45th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on February 11, 2024 (AFP)
A woman raises a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as people gather to mark the 45th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on February 11, 2024 (AFP)

Iran marked Sunday the 45th anniversary of the 1979 Revolution amid tensions gripping the wider Middle East over Israel’s continued war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a televised speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused Tehran’s archfoe the United States, and some Western countries of backing “the Zionist regime’s crimes against humanity in Gaza.”

Raisi declared that “the death of the Zionist regime has come,” also proposing to expel Israel from the United Nations.

Thousands of Iranians marched through major streets and squares decorated with flags, balloons and banners with revolutionary and religious slogans.

Iranian authorities have mobilized thousands of soldiers, students, clerics and senior political and military officials to participate at the anniversary celebrations.

In Tehran, crowds waved Iranian flags, chanted slogans, and carried placards with the slogans “Down with the United States”, “Down with Israel” and “Down with the United Kingdom.”

Some burned US and Israeli flags, a common practice in pro-government rallies.

Processions started out from several points, converging at Azadi Square. State TV showed crowds in many cities and towns, claiming that “millions participated in the rallies” across the country, The AP said.

Meanwhile, AFP said crowds in Azadi Square held up portraits of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, as well as of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and popular general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in an US strike in January 2020.

State media published a picture of some marchers hanging an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a noose, according to Reuters.

Around Azadi Square, Iranian-made Qiam ballistic missiles, Shahed 136 drones and Simorgh satellite launchers were on display.

Iran’s Fars news agency said the military displayed a range of its missiles, including the Qassem Soleimani and Sejjil ballistic missiles, the Simorgh satellite carrier and drones at the square where people took selfies with them.

Many high-ranking Iranian officials attended the celebrations in Tehran, including hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.

The commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Mohammad Salami and Gen. Esmail Ghaani, the head of the expeditionary force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, also took part in the celebrations, while the head of the Judiciary body, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, was at the rally in the central city of Isfahan.

Raisi addressed the crowds in Azadi Square and called on the United Nations to expel “the Zionist regime,” as the crowds chanted: “Death to Israel.” Raisi also said, “the bombing of Gaza has to be stopped as soon as possible.”

He added: “What is happening in Gaza today is a crime against humanity, and those defending these criminals are the American regime and some Western countries.”

The Iranian President accused Israel of “violating 400 resolutions, laws, and international treaties” within the framework of “international organizations.”

Iran has been under crippling US sanctions since Washington's 2018 withdrawal from a landmark deal which granted itc sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program. 



Ukraine Expects $11.8 Bln in US Economic Aid in 2024

In this grab taken from video released by the head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin's telegram channel on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, walks past damaged buildings, after Russian forces completed their takeover of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. (Head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin telegram channel via AP)
In this grab taken from video released by the head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin's telegram channel on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, walks past damaged buildings, after Russian forces completed their takeover of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. (Head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin telegram channel via AP)
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Ukraine Expects $11.8 Bln in US Economic Aid in 2024

In this grab taken from video released by the head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin's telegram channel on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, walks past damaged buildings, after Russian forces completed their takeover of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. (Head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin telegram channel via AP)
In this grab taken from video released by the head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin's telegram channel on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, walks past damaged buildings, after Russian forces completed their takeover of Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine. (Head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region Denis Pushilin telegram channel via AP)

Ukraine expects to receive $11.8 billion in economic support this year from the United States, its prime minister said on Sunday.

Denys Shmyhal said during a televised conference in Kyiv that he was hopeful that US lawmakers would approve long-awaited economic and military aid.

Russia said on Sunday that its forces had taken more advantageous positions near Avdiivka and Donetsk after President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to push further into Ukraine after two years of full-scale war.
Russia's defense ministry said its troops had pushed back Ukrainian forces near Klishchiivka, Dyleyevka and Kurdiumivka in the Donetsk region and taken better positions near Avdiivka which fell to Russia earlier this month.
"In the Donetsk direction, units of the Southern grouping of troops improved the situation along the front line and defeated formations of the 22nd, 28th and 92nd mechanized brigades of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the areas of the settlements of Klishchiivka, Dyleyevka and Kurdiumivka," it said.

"In the Avdiivka direction, units of the Center group of forces occupied more advantageous lines and positions, and also defeated manpower and equipment of the 3rd Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the 107th Air Defense Brigade."
The ministry said Russian troops had repelled seven Ukrainian counter-attacks in the area. A total of 77 Ukrainian drones were destroyed, the ministry said.


Ukraine's Top General, Defense Minister Visit Posts Near Front Line

FILE PHOTO: Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, attends an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 12, 2024. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, attends an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 12, 2024. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
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Ukraine's Top General, Defense Minister Visit Posts Near Front Line

FILE PHOTO: Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, attends an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 12, 2024. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, attends an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 12, 2024. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

Ukrainian army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov visited command posts near the front line to analyze the battlefield and boost defenses, the top general said on Sunday.
Kyiv's military is struggling to stave off Russian forces along the sprawling front line as Moscow's full-scale invasion passes its two-year mark.
"We analyzed the current situation in detail and discussed the necessary further steps, primarily the protection of troops from drones and strikes by aerial bombs as well as the strengthening of certain areas of the front," Syrskyi posted on Telegram along with images of himself and Umerov meeting commanders.
Syrskyi, who did not say when the visit took place, added that "the situation is complex and requires constant monitoring".
Russian forces last week captured the strategic eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka after a months-long assault and are pressing on several other areas along the front line, Ukrainian authorities say.

Kyiv's strategic industries minister said on Sunday Ukraine tripled its weapons production last year and 500 companies are now working in the country's defense sector.

Oleksandr Kamyshin said during a televised address that the figure included 100 state and 400 private companies and that Ukraine this year plans "to considerably increase ammunition production."

Ukraine also announced Sunday destroying 16 out of 18 attack drones launched overnight by Russia.

The air force said the Iranian-made drones had been shot down over eight regions across central, western and southern Ukraine, including the capital region.


Trump Wins South Carolina, Beating Nikki Haley in Her Home State

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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Trump Wins South Carolina, Beating Nikki Haley in Her Home State

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures after speaking Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina's Republican contest on Saturday, extending his winning streak as he marches toward a third consecutive presidential nomination and a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

The former president had been widely favored to win the Southern state, despite his litany of criminal charges and Haley's status as a native of South Carolina who won two terms as governor.

The big win bolstered calls from Trump's allies that Haley, his last remaining challenger, should drop out of the race.

But Haley, who outperformed expectations based on opinion polls, defiantly insisted she would fight on at least through "Super Tuesday" on March 5, when Republicans in 15 states and one US territory will cast ballots.

Trump won with 59.8% support against 39.5% for Haley with 99% of the expected vote tallied, according to Edison Research. Statewide opinion polls before Saturday had given Trump an average lead of 27.6 percentage points, according to the tracking website 538, Reuters reported.

"Forty percent is not some tiny group," Haley said of her vote share. "There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative."

Trump has dominated all five Republican primary contests thus far - in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the US Virgin Islands and now Haley's home state - leaving Haley with no evident path to the Republican nomination.

Trump gave his victory speech in Columbia, the state capital, minutes after the polls closed and did not mention Haley, claiming his party's mantle as he looked ahead to November's general election.

"I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now," he said.

In recent days Haley had notably sharpened her attacks on Trump, questioning his mental acuity and warning voters he would lose the general election to Biden.

But there is scant evidence that a majority of Republican voters is interested in any standard-bearer except Trump.

Immigration, which Trump has made a focus of his campaign, was the number one issue for voters on Saturday, according to an Edison exit poll. Some 39% cited that issue, above the 33% who said the economy was their top concern.

Approximately 84% of voters said the economy is not so good or poor, highlighting a major potential weakness for Biden in November's general election.

Once again, however, exit polls also pointed to Trump's own vulnerabilities. Nearly one-third of voters said he would be unfit to serve as president if he were convicted of a crime.

Trump's first criminal trial is scheduled to begin on March 25 in New York City. He is charged with falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

He faces three other sets of charges, including a federal indictment alleging he conspired to reverse Biden's election victory in 2020. Trump has pleaded not guilty in every case and claimed, with no evidence, that the charges stem from a Democratic conspiracy to derail his campaign.


ECOWAS Lifts Sanctions on Niger

A group photo of the leaders of the ECOWAS countries in Abuja on Saturday. (Reuters)
A group photo of the leaders of the ECOWAS countries in Abuja on Saturday. (Reuters)
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ECOWAS Lifts Sanctions on Niger

A group photo of the leaders of the ECOWAS countries in Abuja on Saturday. (Reuters)
A group photo of the leaders of the ECOWAS countries in Abuja on Saturday. (Reuters)

West Africa's regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, on Saturday said it was lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Niger after last year's military coup.

Niger's president Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a military coup last July, prompting ECOWAS to impose sanctions.

The lifting of the sanctions followed long hours of deliberations by the regional leaders at an extraordinary summit on the political, peace, and security situation in the sub-region.

Following recent coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea, Nigeria's President Bola Ahmed Tinubu - who is also head of ECOWAS – said: "We must re-examine our current approach to the quest for constitutional order in four of our member states."

Multiple crises

ECOWAS finds itself grappling with multiple crises, including the withdrawal of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso from its membership. Additionally, Senegal is embroiled in a political crisis following President Macky Sall's decision to postpone the presidential elections.

The Alliance of Sahel States (ASS)

The military governments of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso forged the Alliance of Sahel States in September, signaling a departure from their reliance on French military presence and signaling a shift towards closer ties with Russia.

In mid-Feb, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, Niger's military commander, hinted at the potential creation of a shared currency with Burkina Faso and Mali, aimed at breaking away from colonial legacies. The decision by Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali to withdraw from ECOWAS last week has stirred concern among hundreds of thousands of citizens, mainly traders, across the three nations.

The group ensures free movement for citizens across its fifteen member states, allowing them to travel visa-free and reside or work in any of these countries. However, following the military takeover in Niamey in late July 2023, which ousted Bazoum, ECOWAS imposed stringent economic and financial sanctions on Niger.

These measures included the suspension of financial transactions, border closures, and the freezing of state assets.

Lifting Sanctions

Efforts to broker dialogue between the new military leadership in Niamey and West African nations have hit roadblocks since the coup. The military junta in Niamey remains firm on its stance of not releasing Bazoum, who, along with his wife, has been in detention since July 26.

ECOWAS has repeatedly demanded Bazoum's release as a condition for easing sanctions.

However, there was a notable development in early January when the new regime agreed to release Salem Bazoum, the son of the former president, and transfer him to Togo.

The most recent gathering of ECOWAS members convened on February 9, issuing a call for reconciliation with the military administrations in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

The Nigerian President urged West African leaders to consider the "lifting of all sanctions that have been imposed on Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger." He called on Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to rethink their decision.


Navalny’s ‘Tortured’ Body Handed Over to His Mother

 Candles are laid next to a portrait of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
Candles are laid next to a portrait of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
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Navalny’s ‘Tortured’ Body Handed Over to His Mother

 Candles are laid next to a portrait of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
Candles are laid next to a portrait of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23, 2024. (AFP)

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died unexpectedly in prison nine days ago, was handed over to his mother on Saturday in the remote Arctic city of Salekhard, his spokeswoman said.

In a video recorded before the release of the body, Navalny's widow Yulia Navalnaya accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "torturing" the corpse of a political opponent.

Navalny's allies urged supporters "not to relax" and his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on X there was no certainty that Russian authorities would let the relatives hold a funeral "the way the family wants and the way Alexei deserves."

In her six-minute video published on YouTube, Navalnaya said she would continue the fight against Putin's regime, questioned the president's faith and accused him of holding her husband's body "hostage".

On Friday Navalny's mother Lyudmila said that Russian investigators were refusing to release his body from a morgue in Salekhard until she agreed to lay him to rest without a public funeral.

She said an official had told her that she should agree to their demands, as Navalny's body was already decomposing.

On Saturday, Navalny aides said authorities had threatened to bury him in the remote prison colony where he died unless his family agreed to their conditions.

Since returning to the Russian presidency in 2012, Putin has positioned himself as a defender of traditional, conservative values against what he portrays as corrosive Western liberalism.


West African Bloc Lifts Sanctions on Junta-Led Niger

Senegal President Macky Sall, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, President of Economic Community of West African States Commission Omar Touray, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President of Gambia Muhammad B.S Jallow, Sierra Leone President Julius Maid Bio, Benin Republic President Patrice Talon and Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on the political, Peace and Security Situation in the ECOWAS sub-region in Abuja, Nigeria February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Senegal President Macky Sall, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, President of Economic Community of West African States Commission Omar Touray, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President of Gambia Muhammad B.S Jallow, Sierra Leone President Julius Maid Bio, Benin Republic President Patrice Talon and Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on the political, Peace and Security Situation in the ECOWAS sub-region in Abuja, Nigeria February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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West African Bloc Lifts Sanctions on Junta-Led Niger

Senegal President Macky Sall, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, President of Economic Community of West African States Commission Omar Touray, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President of Gambia Muhammad B.S Jallow, Sierra Leone President Julius Maid Bio, Benin Republic President Patrice Talon and Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on the political, Peace and Security Situation in the ECOWAS sub-region in Abuja, Nigeria February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Senegal President Macky Sall, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, President of Economic Community of West African States Commission Omar Touray, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President of Gambia Muhammad B.S Jallow, Sierra Leone President Julius Maid Bio, Benin Republic President Patrice Talon and Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on the political, Peace and Security Situation in the ECOWAS sub-region in Abuja, Nigeria February 24, 2024. (Reuters)

The West African regional bloc said on Saturday it would lift strict sanctions on Niger as it seeks a new strategy to dissuade three junta-led states from withdrawing from the political and economic union - a move that threatens regional integration.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to address a political crisis in the coup-hit region that deepened in January with military-ruled Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali's decision to exit the 15-member bloc.

After closed-door talks, ECOWAS said it had decided to lift Niger sanctions including border closures, the freezing of central bank and state assets, and the suspension of commercial transactions with immediate effect.

In a communique it said this was done for humanitarian reasons, but the move will be seen as a gesture of appeasement as ECOWAS tries to persuade the three junta states to remain in the nearly 50-year-old alliance. Their planned exit would bring a messy disentanglement from the bloc's trade and services flows, worth nearly $150 billion a year.

The bloc "further urges the countries to reconsider the decision in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community," it said.

It also said it had lifted certain sanctions on junta-led Guinea, which has not said it wants to leave ECOWAS but like other junta states has not committed to a timeline to return to democratic rule.

ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray said some targeted sanctions and political sanctions remained place for Niger, without giving details.

Strategy rethink

Earlier, ECOWAS chairman Bola Tinubu said the bloc had to rethink its strategy in its bid to get countries to restore constitutional order and urged Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea "not to perceive our organization as the enemy".

ECOWAS closed borders and imposed the strict measures on Niger last year after soldiers detained President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 and set up a transitional government, one of a series of recent military takeovers that have exposed the bloc's inability to halt democratic backsliding.

The sanctions have forced Niger, already one of the world's poorest countries, to slash government spending and default on debt payments of more than $500 million.

In its communique, ECOWAS repeated its call for the release of Bazoum and request for the junta to provide an "acceptable transition timetable".

Niger's coup followed two each in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso over the past three years, leaving a swathe of territory in the hands of military governments that have also moved to distance themselves from former colonial ruler France and other Western allies. The military also seized power in Guinea in 2021.

ECOWAS also imposed sanctions on Mali in a bid to hasten its return to constitutional order, although they were lifted in 2022.

The three countries have called ECOWAS's sanctions strategy illegal and grounds for their decision to leave the bloc immediately without abiding by usual withdrawal terms.

The three have started cooperating under a pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) and sought to form a confederation, although it is not clear how closely they plan to align political, economic and security interests as they struggle to contain a decade-old battle with extremist insurgents.


Italy and Canada Sign Security Deals with Ukraine

From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pose for a photo during meeting with media at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pose for a photo during meeting with media at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
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Italy and Canada Sign Security Deals with Ukraine

From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pose for a photo during meeting with media at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pose for a photo during meeting with media at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)

The leaders of Canada and Italy signed security agreements with Ukraine on Saturday after talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as Kyiv marked the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion.

Canada and Italy join Britain, Germany, France and Denmark in concluding 10-year security deals with Kyiv that are intended to shore up Ukraine's security until it can reach its aim of becoming a member of the NATO military alliance.

"We continue to support Ukraine in what I have always believed is its people's just right to defend themselves," Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said at a news conference.

"This also necessarily means military support, because to confuse the much bandied-about word 'peace' with 'surrender', as some do, is a hypocritical approach that we will never share," she said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Ottawa's support for Kyiv remained "unwavering" two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

"Today, standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners, Canada committed to further assistance, including military and humanitarian support, for Ukraine," he said.

Zelenskiy told reporters at the news conference that Saturday had been "a unique day for our country".

The two security agreements were signed at the start of a joint news conference with Zelenskiy, Meloni, Trudeau and the leaders of Belgium and the European Union.

Trudeau's office said Canada would provide more than 3 billion Canadian dollars ($2.22 billion) in financial and defense aid to Ukraine in 2024.


UK to Help Replenish Ukraine’s Artillery Reserves with $311 Mln Package

 Local women stand next to their house heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Local women stand next to their house heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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UK to Help Replenish Ukraine’s Artillery Reserves with $311 Mln Package

 Local women stand next to their house heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, February 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Local women stand next to their house heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, February 24, 2024. (Reuters)

Britain will spend 245 million pounds ($311 million) over the next year to boost Ukraine’s artillery ammunition reserves, the defense ministry said on Saturday - the two year anniversary of Russia's invasion.

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT

Ukraine faces acute ammunition shortages and is seeking more military assistance from Western countries as it battles to hold off Russia. The prospect of further military aid from the United States, its largest donor, hinges on a congressional vote.

KEY QUOTE

"They cannot win this fight without the support of the international community – and that’s why we continue to do what it takes to ensure Ukraine can continue to fight towards victory." British defense minister Grant Shapps said in a statement.

BY THE NUMBERS

Britain has pledged more than $8.8 billion (7 billion pounds) of military assistance to Ukraine since February 2022.

US President Joe Biden's administration has so far provided $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine and is currently awaiting congressional approval to secure $60 billion.

Germany, the second-largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine, says it has provided and committed to some 28 billion euros ($30.2 billion) of military aid so far.

The European Union has committed around 6 billion euros in military aid through the European Peace Facility.

Several individual Western countries have pledged military aid since February 2022, including Canada committing $2.4 billion.


Australian Authorities Urge Hundreds to Flee Uncontained Bushfire

A kangaroo jumps in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma. (AFP file photo)
A kangaroo jumps in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma. (AFP file photo)
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Australian Authorities Urge Hundreds to Flee Uncontained Bushfire

A kangaroo jumps in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma. (AFP file photo)
A kangaroo jumps in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma. (AFP file photo)

A bushfire in Australia's Victoria state raged out of control on Saturday, with authorities issuing a fresh evacuation alert at the highest danger rating for hundreds of residents in the state's west.
The emergency warning followed the downgrading on Saturday of another bushfire, sparked earlier this week, that has killed livestock, destroyed properties and forced more than 2,000 people to leave western towns and head to the city of Ballarat, 95 km (59 miles) west of state capital Melbourne.
The new blaze was threatening the rural town of Amphitheatre, population 223.
"Leaving immediately is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous," Vic Emergency said on its website, adding that the fire was "not yet under control".
The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Saturday that three homes and several outbuildings had been destroyed this week in Victoria's bushfire emergency.
Around 1,000 firefighters supported by more than 50 aircraft have battled the fires since they started.
Australia is currently in the grips of an El Nino weather pattern, which is typically associated with extreme phenomena such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.
The last two bushfire seasons in Australia have been subdued compared with the 2019-2020 "Black Summer" when bushfires destroyed an area the size of Turkey and killed 33 people and 3 billion animals.


Ukraine’s Top Diplomat Tells Skeptics at UN His Country Will Win the War

Ukrainian Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting on the "temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine" marking the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
Ukrainian Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting on the "temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine" marking the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
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Ukraine’s Top Diplomat Tells Skeptics at UN His Country Will Win the War

Ukrainian Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting on the "temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine" marking the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 23, 2024. (AFP)
Ukrainian Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting on the "temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine" marking the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, at the UN Headquarters in New York City on February 23, 2024. (AFP)

Ukraine’s foreign minister on Friday told skeptics who believe Ukraine can’t win the war with Russia that they will be proven wrong: “Ukraine will win the war.”

Dmytro Kuleba, speaking at the United Nations on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia's invasion, urged the world's nations to stand behind Ukraine. If they do, he said, victory will come “sooner rather than later.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, countered by repeating Moscow's claim that it didn't start the conflict. He blamed the West for fomenting it, accused Ukraine of being a tool of Western geopolitical ambitions, and vowed that Russia's “special military operation” won’t end until its goals are achieved.

Those goals — stated on Feb. 24, 2022, the day Russian troops crossed the border — include the de-militarization of Ukraine and ensuring its “neutral status.”

The UN General Assembly and the Security Council are marking the anniversary with ministerial meetings as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleads for more US military aid and Russian forces make new gains in eastern Ukraine.

The General Assembly has become the most important UN body dealing with Ukraine because the Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, is paralyzed by Russia’s veto power. Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, unlike Security Council resolutions, but they serve as a barometer of world opinion.

Addressing the 193-member assembly, Kuleba recalled that over 140 nations supported resolutions backing Ukraine and calling for Russian forces to withdraw. But, he said, “Moscow’s aim is to destroy Ukraine and they’re quite outspoken about it.”

He said countries now saying Ukraine should negotiate with Russia and end the war are either “ill-informed” or didn't follow events after 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and backed an armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine. The two countries, he said, held approximately 200 rounds of negotiations and made 20 cease-fire agreements.

“All of these peace efforts ended two years ago, when Russia tore apart the Minsk process and launched its full-scale invasion,” Kuleba said. “Why would anyone suggest today that following the same logic will bring us to a different result?”

Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan is “the only serious peace proposal on the table,” Kuleba said, calling on other countries to add their diplomatic weight to it. The plan calls for expelling Russian forces, establishing a special tribunal to prosecute alleged Russian war crimes and building a European-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine.

When Russia invaded, diplomats and experts didn’t believe Ukraine would survive. Speaking to reporters, Kuleba said he wanted to make one point clear.

“Today, the same people do not believe that Ukraine can win this war,” he said. “They turned wrong once, and they will turn wrong again. Ukraine survived the invasion. Ukraine will win the war. And if we act collectively and jointly this will happen ... sooner rather than later.”

Nebenzia slammed Zelenskyy's plan.

“It is nothing other than an ultimatum to Russia and an attempt to lure as many countries as possible into endless meetings on this utopian project at any price possible,” he said.

At the General Assembly, where representatives of 64 countries are scheduled to speak, there was strong support for Ukraine.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he recognized that there is a sense of fatigue with the war and a compromise might seem attractive, but he said Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't seeking compromise.

“Rather, this is a neo-imperialist bully who believes might is right,” he said. “If Putin were to eke out some kind of win, the rest of the world would suffer, too. What starts in Ukraine would not end there.”

Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the assembly: “Only our resolve can deter the neo-imperial delusions that may arise in any part of the world.”

“We need to stay the course until Mr. Putin understands that the days of European imperialism are gone for good,” he said.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said at Ukraine’s request his government will organize a high-level peace conference by the summer. He invited all nations to attend and work “to find common ground for peace” based on the UN Charter, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Neither the assembly nor the council took any action to mark the anniversary. But before the council meeting, Kuleba read a statement from more than 50 countries, while surrounded by their ministers and ambassadors, condemning Russia’s aggression, its “flagrant violation of international law,” and its attacks on civilians and the infrastructure they need to survive, “which may constitute war crimes.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefed the council, saying Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine violated the UN Charter and international law and, two years later, “the war in Ukraine remains an open wound at the heart of Europe.”

He called the invasion “a dangerous precedent,” stressing that newly independent countries in Africa didn't change borders established by colonial powers “with the stroke of a pen” because they knew it would open “a Pandora's box.”

The UN chief said the path to peace is respect for the UN Charter's underlying principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, warning that the war is deepening geopolitical divides.

“The danger of the conflict escalating and expanding is very real,” he said.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country is a Russian ally, said Beijing respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and all other countries, and urged stepped-up peace efforts. He also stressed that “the legitimate security concerns of all countries” must be respected, and criticized NATO’s eastward expansion — which Moscow has strongly opposed.

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the Security Council: “Putin is making clear every day, every hour ... that he does not want to negotiate peace. He wants to complete his conquest.”

And US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that through all of Russia's “lies, Putin has tried to rewrite history, to justify the unjustifiable, to break the will of the Ukrainian people, and to break the will of the international community.”

“We cannot let that happen,” she said.