Russia’s ‘Brazen’ Attack On Ukraine ‘Will Not Go Unpunished’, Says Canada

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 21, 2022 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday condemned Russia’s “egregious” and “unprovoked” attack on Ukraine, calling on Moscow to immediately withdraw from the country and saying its aggression “will not go unpunished.”

“Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine,” Trudeau said in a statement issued in the hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of military operations.

The Canadian leader called the “unprovoked actions” a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called on Russia to “immediately cease all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine and withdraw all military and proxy forces from the country.”

READ ALSO: German Army ‘Limited’ In Russia Response, Says Commander

Trudeau warned of “severe consequences” for Moscow, vowing with allies “to collectively respond to these reckless and dangerous acts,” including imposing more sanctions.

“Russia’s brazen acts will not go unpunished,” he said.

Trudeau was due to join a virtual, closed-door meeting of G7 leaders — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — at 9:00 am (1400 GMT) Thursday.

The G7 meeting is likely to result in more sanctions against Russia, which has long claimed it would not invade Ukraine, despite putting a huge force of tens of thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry on the country’s borders, while insisting that Kyiv abandon its pro-Western ambitions.

AFP

UK Defence Minister Takes A Swipe At Putin, Says He Has ‘Gone Full Tonto’

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (C) hosting a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Defence Ministers meeting at at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, central England on February 22, 2022. (Photo by Sgt Jimmy Wise / MOD / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “gone full tonto” by ordering his troops into two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence secretary said Wednesday in unguarded comments to military officials.

Ben Wallace made the candid comments suggesting Putin had lost his mind while also comparing the Russian leader to Tsar Nicholas I, who struggled for allies during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.

“We’ve got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full tonto,” Wallace — a former army officer — told serving personnel in a government building in Westminster, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

“Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.

“The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea — we can always do it again,” Wallace, who served in the same regiment, was overheard saying.

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The minister’s unvarnished assessment came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said Putin was in an “illogical and irrational frame of mind”.

Asked about Wallace’s reported assessment, Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: “The defence secretary is more astute to make that judgment than I.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meanwhile said Putin was “highly likely” to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attack Kyiv.

Britain and the US have repeatedly cited intelligence as indicating that Moscow is planning such a move.

However, Truss noted London does not yet have “the full evidence” that Russian troops have crossed into Ukrainian territory, including rebel-held areas, calling the current situation “ambiguous”.

– ‘Defensive weapons’ –

Meanwhile in parliament, Johnson confirmed Britain would send further military supplies to Ukraine “in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour” from Russia.

“This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid,” he told MPs.

The UK last month deployed some 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv along with military trainers — who have since left the country — as Western nations stepped up their support for Ukraine.

London is ready to guarantee up to $500 million (£368 million) in loans to Kyiv to promote economic stability and reforms, the foreign office said ahead of Johnson’s comments.

READ ALSO: Gas Prices ‘In God’s Hands’, Producers Warn As Ukraine Crisis Sparks Surge

In December, it increased the amount of financial support available to Ukraine to £3.5 billion and signed a treaty on modernising its navy.

Earlier this month it also announced £100 million in extra assistance to be provided over three years to help the ex-Soviet country boost the economy and reduce dependency on energy imports.

The latest commitments come a day after Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson branded “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions.

However, he faced criticism from numerous lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, that the measures were woefully insufficient.

He and his ministers have insisted tougher measures are set to follow but depend on Moscow’s actions.

Johnson also announced Wednesday that his culture minister had asked media regulator Ofcom to review the UK broadcasting licence of Kremlin-backed television channel RT.

In a leaked letter to Ofcom, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter to AFP, adding: “All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules, including due accuracy and due impartiality.

READ ALSO: Pope Warns Of ‘Increasingly Alarming Scenarios’ In Ukraine

“If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in. Given the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, we will examine complaints about any broadcaster’s news coverage of this issue as a priority.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back on Telegram saying “If Britain turns its threat towards Russian media into a reality, retaliatory measures will not take long to come.

“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what this looks like,” she said.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau at the start of this month after Russia shut the outlet’s local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.

Malta To Hold General Elections March 26, Says PM

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela arrives for an informal meeting of the European Council on Ukraine and Russia at The European Council building in Brussels on February 17, 2022. (Photo by Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP)

 

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday called a general election for March 26, launching a campaign likely to be dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and the fight against corruption.

“In the coming hours, I will be going to the president and advising him to dissolve parliament for a general election to be held on 26 March,” Abela said during a party rally in Floriana.

Abela has led the Mediterranean island nation since January 2020, when Joseph Muscat quit following a political crisis over the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

READ ALSO: Queen Elizabeth Tests Positive For COVID-19, Says Palace

Opinion polls suggest their Labour party has a significant lead over the opposition Nationalist Party, pointing to a comfortable third-term win.

Abela is expected to campaign on his handling of the pandemic, highlighting support for businesses, an EU-leading vaccination campaign and a return to brisk economic growth.

But Nationalist leader Bernard Grech, who took over a year ago as the party battled poor poll ratings, is likely to focus on the government’s record on the rule of law and corruption.

Poland Offers Ukraine Ammunition Ahead Of PM’s Visit

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks to the press on the sidelines of the “Defend Europe” summit, organised by the Spanish far-right party VOX, in Madrid on January 29, 2022. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Poland on Monday said it had offered Ukraine tens of thousands of ammunition rounds ahead of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s visit to Kyiv as fears of a Russian invasion grow.

The EU member has also announced it is readying itself for a potential wave of up to a million refugees from Ukraine if negotiations fail and war breaks out.

“The decision has been taken to send defensive ammunition to Ukraine,” said Pawel Soloch, head of the national security bureau.

He told reporters the offer consisted of “tens of thousands of ammunition rounds, at present” and that Poland was now awaiting a response from Ukraine.

Morawiecki is due to visit Ukraine on Tuesday.

Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik last week spoke of the humanitarian aid Poland was prepared to offer its neighbour to the east.

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“If the situation in Ukraine were to end in war, then we must be prepared for an influx of real refugees,” Wasik told TV Republika.

“The interior ministry has for some time now been taking steps to prepare us for a wave of even a million people,” he added.

He said Poland, with a population of 38 million, would have to ready border crossings and medical services for any such influx, as well as prepare accommodation and meals for the refugees.

The country already has a sizeable Ukrainian community, including a longstanding minority of 50,000 with Polish citizenship.

Another 300,000 Ukrainians have Polish residence permits, yet the actual number living there is estimated to be much higher.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War after Moscow deployed tens of thousands of troops on the border of Ukraine.

The military build-up has prompted fears it is planning an invasion, spooking NATO and its members in the region and prompting the Western alliance to explore bolstering its own deployments there.

AFP

Canada PM Trudeau Tests Positive For COVID-19

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 12, 2022 Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference on the Covid-19 situation in Ottawa, Canada.  (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he had tested positive for Covid-19 but was not experiencing severe symptoms.

The 50-year-old leader — who is vaccinated and boosted — had announced last week he was isolating after being exposed to the coronavirus.

“This morning, I tested positive for Covid-19. I’m feeling fine — and I’ll continue to work remotely this week while following public health guidelines,” the premier wrote on Twitter Monday.

Trudeau, who received his third vaccine dose in January, urged Canadians to get vaccinated and boosted as the nation battles a rise in Covid cases and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant.

The province of Ontario, where Trudeau lives in the Canadian capital Ottawa, requires people to isolate after a Covid exposure for 10 days if unvaccinated.

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Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is expected to start easing Covid restrictions from Monday, allowing restaurants, bars, sports venues and movie theaters to re-open.

Canada has recorded more than 2.9 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 33,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Ottawa was hit over the weekend by mass protests led by Canadian truckers opposed to vaccine mandates for crossing the Canada-US border.

Trudeau defended the vaccination mandate last week, noting that 90 percent of drivers are already vaccinated.

Israel To Reopen To Vaccinated, Low-Risk Country Visitors

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. Gil COHEN-MAGEN / POOL / AFP

 

Israel will from Sunday allow entry to vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries, the health ministry said, five weeks after it shut its borders to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and a group of ministers agreed Monday that “entry of vaccinated/recovering tourists from ‘orange’ countries will be permitted” from Sunday, the ministry said in a statement.

Israel had closed its borders to all foreign tourists last November 28. Bennett said at the time the move aimed to prepare Israel for an inevitable fifth wave of Covid cases.

Last Sunday, Bennett said the temporary blanket prohibition on foreign arrivals had achieved its goal, even as domestic Covid infections have soared.

“This greatly delayed the entry of Omicron to the country,” he said.

“We bought time and we utilised it well,” the premier added, saying Israel had acquired significant stocks of the Pfizer antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Visitors will have to take a PCR or antigen test prior to boarding their flights and another PCR test when they arrive. They then have to quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving the result, the ministry said.

Israel prohibits its citizens to visit what it considers Covid high-risk countries, and tourists from those locations will not be allowed into the Jewish state.

As of Monday, Israel’s list of “red” countries included Britain, Ethiopia, Mexico, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, according to the health ministry.

The ministry on Monday reported 6,562 new Covid infections, nearly double the daily average of last week. Almost 1.4 million Covid infections, including 8,244 deaths, have been officially recorded in Israel.

Israel Unveils Plan To Double Settlers In Occupied Golan

 

Israel on Sunday unveiled a plan to spend more than $300 million to double the Jewish settler population in the Golan Heights, 40 years after it annexed the territory captured from Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who held his weekly cabinet meeting at the Mevo Hama community in the Golan on Sunday, vowed this was the “moment” to boost the number of Jewish Israelis living in the territory.

“Our goal is to double the population in the Golan,” the right-wing Bennett said as he presented his one billion shekel ($317 million) programme to improve housing, transportation, tourism and medical facilities in the area.

Around 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with some 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after it was seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel annexed the territory on December 14, 1981, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Former US president Donald Trump, widely viewed as pro-Israeli, granted US recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in 2019.

“It goes without saying that the Golan Heights is Israeli,” Bennett said Sunday, noting the Trump recognition and what he described as the “important” fact that President Joe Biden’s administration had “made it clear that there is no change in policy”.

Shortly after the Biden administration took office in January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested there were legal questions surrounding Trump’s move, which Syria condemned as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

But Blinken indicated there was no thought of reversing course, especially amid the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war, are separated by a de facto border at the Golan Heights.

Bennett, who leads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition, needs cabinet approval before his Golan plan can move forward.

Sunday’s meeting was temporarily delayed after the premier’s 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, sending Bennett into isolation, but a vote on the plan was still expected.

EU Parliament Warns Over ‘Climate Of Hostility’ In Slovenia

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Parliament on Thursday sounded the alarm over “deep polarisation” in Slovenia, amid warnings on press freedom and judicial independence in the EU member state.

Lawmakers backed a resolution with 356 votes for and 284 against, saying they were “deeply concerned about the level of public debate, climate of hostility, distrust and deep polarisation in Slovenia, which has eroded trust in public bodies and between them”.

It said that “prominent public figures and politicians, including members of the government, have to lead by example and need to ensure a respectful and civilised public debate, free from intimidation, attacks, slurs and harassment”.

Slovenia’s right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa — whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency — has faced repeated accusations of flouting democratic norms.

Last month, following pressure from the European Union, the authorities agreed to restore funding to the country’s sole news agency STA, suspended since December after Jansa’s conservative government criticised its reporting.

The resolution called on the government to ensure the funding going forward and to “cease all political interference and pressure” on the country’s public broadcaster.

Israel Closes Borders To All Foreigners Over Omicron

File photo of Isreal’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’.

 

Israel on Sunday decided to close its borders to foreign tourists and re-authorise a controversial cellphone tracking programme in a bid to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is banned except for cases approved by a special committee,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement, adding that the measure would take effect on Sunday evening.

Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not.

It was only four weeks ago that Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists after a prolonged closure due to Covid.

The measure were decided by a cabinet committee tasked with overseeing Israel’s Covid response.

READ ALSO: UK To Enforce New COVID-19 Rules From Tuesday

Bennett’s government has also re-activated a controversial programme initiated under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu early in the pandemic that allows the powerful Shin Bet internal security agency to track cellphones as a viral containment measure.

Tracking “will be in order to locate verified (Omicron) cases and thereby cut the chains of infection,” Bennett’s office said, adding the programme will take effect on Thursday.

The tracking “is restricted only to verified cases of the new strain.

“There will be no widespread and sweeping use for all verified cases as was done in previous waves,” it added, stressing the Shin Bet will also not monitor quarantine violations.

‘Red Flag’

The Shin Bet tracking programme faced legal challenges from civil liberties groups after its introduction last year, before it was halted.

The government’s latest announcement came as Jews mark the start at sundown of the eight-day-long Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

It already imposed a series of emergency measures late Friday to protect its heavily vaccinated population after identifying a case of the new Covid-19 variant.

The health ministry said the new strain that was first detected by South Africa was discovered in a person who had arrived from Malawi.

Other suspected cases are currently being traced, authorities have said.

Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday that they had detected the new B.1.1.529 variant — now dubbed Omicron — with at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta or three for Beta.

The strain was of “serious concern” and had been blamed for a surge in infections, the authorities in South Africa said.

It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, as well as in Belgium.

The new variant “is concerning and has the potential to be very dangerous. We are raising a red flag,” Israeli Prome Minister Naftali Bennett said late Friday.

He said Israel would order 10 million PCR test kits.

Israel was one of the first countries to launch vaccines against the coronavirus last year, thanks to a deal with Pfizer that gave it access to millions of doses in exchange for data on the vaccine’s efficacy.

Its initial vaccine rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was among the world’s fastest, and more than 5.7 million of the country’s nine million people are now fully vaccinated.

New Zealand Drops ‘COVID Zero’ Goal After Delta Outbreak

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 at the Parliament in Wellington on June 8, 2020.  (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP)

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted Monday that New Zealand’s widely praised “Covid zero” strategy had failed to halt a stubborn outbreak in Auckland and said a new approach was needed.

The hardline elimination policy had largely protected the country from the pandemic, with residents enjoying a near-normal domestic life alongside tight restrictions on international borders.

But an August outbreak prompted a seven-week lockdown in its main population centre that has failed to curb infection rates.

Ardern said the highly transmissible Delta variant had proved a “game-changer” that could not be eliminated.

“Even with the long-term restrictions we’ve had, we patently haven’t reached zero,” she added.

Ardern said she would not immediately dump the elimination strategy but lockdown restrictions in Auckland would be eased slightly, even though new case numbers have not fallen.

She added that the change — a major shift to her previous goal of completely stamping out the virus — was possible because vaccination rates had increased dramatically.

“Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines, now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things,” she told reporters.

Auckland will remain in lockdown for now but the government will conduct weekly reviews to time the reintroduction of freedoms.

City residents can meet outdoors in groups of up to 10 from Wednesday and steps such as reopening shops and schools will be considered in the coming weeks.

The rest of the country was allowed out of lockdown in early September.

Before the Auckland outbreak, New Zealand’s elimination strategy was widely lauded by bodies such as the World Health Organisation, with just 27 deaths in a population of five million.

Opposition leader Judith Collins said Ardern had offered only a “vague wishlist” that failed to outline a coherent plan to replace the “Covid zero” approach.

AFP

Protester Throws Stones At Canada’s Trudeau At Campaign Stop

Canada’s Liberal Party Leader and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on August 31, 2021 in Ottawa, Canada. – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party appears to be ceding popularity to its Conservative rivals, according to polls published August 28, 2021, with early elections only weeks away. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking a third term in office in snap elections later this month, has repeatedly faced off against angry protesters on the campaign trail. And now, one has even thrown stones at him.

The incident happened on Monday as the Liberal Party leader was leaving an event at a microbrewery in London, a city southwest of Toronto in Ontario province. Someone in the crowd threw what appeared to be a handful of gravel at the prime minister, TV images showed.

Trudeau, members of his security detail and journalists were reportedly struck. No one was injured.

The incident drew condemnation from Trudeau’s main rival, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh.

Trudeau — who has slipped in the polls and is now in a statistical dead heat with O’Toole — has faced off on several recent occasions with what he described as “anti-vaxxer mobs” angry with his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Protesters enraged over proposed mandatory coronavirus vaccines and other crisis measures have shouted racial and misogynist slurs at his entourage.

Last week, he was forced to cancel an event over security concerns.

“Yes, there is a small fringe element in this country that is angry, that doesn’t believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop.

“But Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians, are not represented by them, and I know will not allow those voices, those special interest groups, those protesters — I don’t even want to call them protesters, those anti-vaxxer mobs — to dictate how this country gets through this pandemic.”

AFP

Central African Republic PM Resigns

Prime Minister of the Central African Republic Firmin Ngrebada gives an interview on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg on June 4, 2021.
PHOTO: Olga MALTSEVA / AFP

 

The Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, Firmin Ngrebada, announced on Thursday that his government had tendered its resignation.

Ngrebada wrote on Twitter that he had “presented (his) resignation to the President,” Faustin Archange Touadera.

But presidential spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told AFP that he may be asked to stay and form a new government.

“We will know within a few hours if the president keeps the prime minister on,” Mokpeme said.

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A former chief of staff to Touadera, Ngrebada had been in post since early 2019.

Central African Republic is the second least-developed country in the world according to the UN and suffers from the aftermath of a brutal civil conflict that erupted in 2013.

Touadera was re-elected in December on a turnout of fewer than one in three voters.

The ballot was hampered by armed groups that at the time controlled around two-thirds of the country, and rebels mounted an offensive in the runup to polling day.

Since then, the army, backed by UN peacekeepers, Rwandan special forces, and Russian paramilitaries, has wrested much of the territory from rebel control.

AFP