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Russia invades Ukraine: here’s what you need to know

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Dylan Stableford

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a pre-dawn attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities with airstrikes and sending tanks across the border.

The long-anticipated move, which US intelligence agencies have been predicting for months, was widely condemned by world leaders.

Here’s what to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

What exactly happened?

In a televised speech just before 6am Moscow time, Putin announced that his forces were entering Ukraine in what he described as a “special military operation” aimed at the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of the sovereign nation.

Within moments of Putin’s address, distant explosions were witnessed by reporters in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa as Ukrainians woke up to a new, uncertain reality.

Have there been any casualties?

Oleksii Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said at least 40 people had been killed and dozens others wounded in the attack so far.

Although given the size and sweep of the Russian invasion, it’s safe to expect that the actual number of casualties is higher.

How did Ukraine respond?

Zelensky cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history,” he tweeted.

“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

The Ukrainian president said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, and Ukrainian forces were battling other troops just miles from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, for control of a strategic airport.

Zelensky also described the invasion as “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe”.

How did NATO react?

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg called Putin’s invasion of Ukraine “a brutal act of war”.

“Peace on our continent has been shattered,” he said.

At a tense emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, tore into his Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya.

“Your country declared a war against my country,” Yelchenko said, adding: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador.”

What was the response from the White House?

In a statement, Biden condemned Putin’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine.

The US president said: “The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine . . . as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”

What’s next?

Biden participated in a virtual meeting early Thursday with G-7 leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “discuss their joint response”, according to a White House official. – Yahoo! News

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Haiti plunges into chaos after president’s assassination

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An already struggling and chaotic Haiti stumbled into an uncertain future on Thursday, reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse followed by a reported gunbattle in which authorities said police killed four suspects in the murder, detained two others and freed three officers being held hostage.

Officials pledged to find all those responsible for the predawn raid on Moïse’s house early Wednesday that left the president shot to death and his wife, Martine Moïse, critically wounded.

She was flown to Miami for treatment.

“The pursuit of the mercenaries continues,” Léon Charles, director of Haiti’s National Police, said on Wednesday night in announcing the arrests of suspects. “Their fate is fixed: they will fall in the fighting or will be arrested.”

Officials did not provide any details on the suspects, including their ages, names or nationalities, nor did they address a motive or what led police to the suspects.

They said only that the attack condemned by Haiti’s main opposition parties and the international community was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group” whose members spoke Spanish or English.

Prime Minister Claude Joseph assumed leadership of Haiti with the help of the police and military and decreed a two-week state of siege following Moïse’s killing, which stunned a nation grappling with some of the western hemisphere’s highest poverty, violence and political instability.

Inflation and gang violence are spiralling upward as food and fuel becomes scarcer, while 60 percent of Haitian workers earn less than R30 a day.

The increasingly dire situation comes as Haiti is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 following a history of dictatorship and political upheaval.

Those in Haiti and family and friends living abroad wondered what is next.

“There is this void now, and they are scared about what will happen to their loved ones,” said Marlene Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network Movement, a group that helps people in Miami’s Little Haiti community.

She said it was important for the administration of US President Joe Biden to take a much more active role in supporting attempts at national dialogue in Haiti with the aim of holding free, fair and credible elections.

Bastien said she also wants to see the participation of the extensive Haitian diaspora: “No more band-aids. The Haitian people have been crying and suffering for too long.”

Haiti had grown increasingly unstable under Moïse, who had been ruling by decree for more than a year and faced violent protests as critics accused him of trying to amass more power while the opposition demanded he step down.

According to Haiti’s constitution, Moïse should be replaced by the president of Haiti’s Supreme Court, but the chief justice died in recent days from COVID-19, leaving open the question of who might rightfully succeed to the office.

Joseph, meanwhile, was supposed to be replaced by Ariel Henry, who had been named prime minister by Moïse a day before the assassination.

Henry told the Associated Press in a brief interview that he is the prime minister, calling it an exceptional and confusing situation.

In another interview with Radio Zenith, he said there was no fight between him and Joseph: “I only disagree with the fact that people have taken hasty decisions . . . when the moment demands a little more serenity and maturity.”

Moïse had faced large protests in recent months that turned violent as opposition leaders and their supporters rejected his plans to hold a constitutional referendum with proposals that would strengthen the presidency.

Hours after the assassination, public transportation and street vendors remained largely scarce, an unusual sight for the normally bustling streets of Port-au-Prince.

Gunfire rang out intermittently across the city, a grim reminder of the growing power of gangs that displaced more than 14 700 people last month alone as they torched and ransacked homes in a fight over territory.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia, said gangs were a force to contend with and it isn’t certain Haiti’s security forces can enforce a state of siege.

“It’s a really explosive situation,” he said, adding that foreign intervention with a UN-type military presence is a possibility.

“Whether Claude Joseph manages to stay in power is a huge question. It will be very difficult to do so if he doesn’t create a government of national unity.”

Joseph told the Associated Press that he supports an international investigation into the assassination and believes elections scheduled for later this year should be held as he promised to work with Moïse’s allies and opponents alike.

“Everything is under control,” he said. – AP

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‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero arrested on terrorism charges

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Rwanda said it had arrested Paul Rusesabagina – the man who was hailed a hero in a Hollywood movie about the country’s 1994 genocide – on terrorism charges, and paraded him in front of the media in handcuffs.

Rusesabagina was played by Don Cheadle in the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda which told the story of how he used his job as a hotel manager and his connections with the Hutu elite to protect Tutsis fleeing the slaughter.

On Monday, two police officers brought the 66-year-old to a press conference at the headquarters of the Rwanda Investigations Bureau and let media film him and take photographs.

Rusesabagina, who wore a face mask, did not speak.

He has said in the past he is the victim of a smear campaign in Rwanda.

“Rusesabagina is suspected of being a founder or a leader or sponsor or member of violent armed extremist terror outfits . . . operating out of various places in the region and abroad,” the bureau’s spokesman, Thierry Murangira, told journalists.

He said Rusesabagina would face several charges including “terrorism, financing terrorism . . . arson, kidnap and murder”.

The bureau said on Twitter he had been arrested “through international cooperation”, and had been the subject of an international arrest warrant, without going into further details.

Rusesabagina, a critic of President Paul Kagame, moved abroad after the genocide and won worldwide acclaim, receiving the United States’ highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.

But back home he has sparked outrage with warnings of another genocide, this time by Tutsis against Hutus.

He has drawn criticism from some genocide survivors and Kagame who accused him of exploiting the genocide for commercial gain.

In 2010, the prosecutor general told Reuters that authorities had evidence Rusesabagina had funded terrorist groups, though no charges were brought.

Authorities have since said he had a role in a string of alleged attacks by National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels in southern Rwanda along the border with Burundi in 2018.

Rusesabagina, whose father was Hutu but mother and wife were Tutsi, has denied exaggerating his role in rescuing Tutsis.

He has not publicly responded to the charges of supporting armed groups.

About 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in 100 days in the central African nation from April 6, 1994.

Soldiers of the then Hutu-led government and ethnic militia allies orchestrated the genocide in which victims were hacked to death with machetes, burned alive or shot.

The killings ended when Tutsi rebels, led by Kagame, seized control and triggered an exodus of more than two million Hutus. – Reuters

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Trump terminates US ties with WHO

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United States President Donald Trump on Friday said he is terminating the US relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus, saying the WHO had essentially become a puppet organisation of China.

Appearing in the White House Rose Garden, Trump went ahead with repeated threats to eliminate American funding for the group, which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Trump said the WHO had failed to make reforms to the organisation that the president had demanded earlier this month.

He said Chinese officials “ignored their reporting obligations” about the virus to the WHO and pressured the WHO to “mislead the world” when the virus was first discovered by Chinese authorities.

“China has total control over the World Health Organisation despite only paying $40 million per year compared to what the United States has been paying which is approximately $450 million a year. We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly but they have refused to act,” said Trump.

“Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organisation and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,” he said.

Trump has long questioned the value of the United Nations and scorned the importance of multilateralism as he focuses on an “America First” agenda.

Since taking office, Trump has quit the UN Human Rights Council, the UN cultural agency UNESCO, a global accord to tackle climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

The World Health Organisation is a UN specialised agency – an independent international body that works with the United Nations.

The WHO and a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s decision. – Reuters

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