Blinken Vows US Support for Ukraine in Call With Foreign Minister

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday, affirmed Washington’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity “in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” the State Department said in a statement.
 
Ukraine and Russia have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and over its support for separatist rebels fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
 
Blinken “expressed concern about the security situation in eastern Ukraine and offered condolences on the recent loss of four Ukrainian soldiers,” the statement said.
 
Ukraine’s armed forces said last week that four soldiers were killed in shelling by Russian forces in Donbas, the highest daily death total since a cease-fire agreement was reached last July.
 
Ukrainian commander-in-chief Ruslan Khomchak said on Tuesday Russia was building up armed forces near Ukraine’s borders in a threat to the country’s security.
 
The Kremlin said Wednesday it was concerned about mounting tensions in eastern Ukraine and that it feared Kyiv’s government forces could do something to restart a conflict with pro-Russian separatists. 

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Mexico Searches for Daughter of Salvadoran Woman Killed in Police Custody

Mexican authorities are searching for the daughter of Salvadoran woman Victoria Salazar, who died after a female police officer was seen in a video kneeling on her back, a case that triggered an outpouring of anger in Mexico. The attorney general’s office of the state of Quintana Roo, where Salazar died, said on Tuesday shortly before midnight that an Amber Alert had been issued for her daughter, 16-year-old Francela Yaritza Salazar Arriaza. Francela was last seen in the Caribbean tourist resort of Tulum, where her mother was killed. Salazar’s partner was arrested on Tuesday for abuse of her and her daughters, Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquin said. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador this week said Salazar, 36, had been subject to “brutal treatment and murdered” after her detention on Saturday by four police officers. An autopsy showed Salazar’s neck had been broken. Her death, which had echoes of the case of George Floyd, an African American man who died in May as a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck, sparked outrage on social media and calls by El Salvador’s president for the officers to be punished. “They used excessive force,” her mother, Rosibel Arriaza, told Mexican television network TV Azteca. She noted that her daughter’s death was similar to that of George Floyd. FILE – Rosibel Emerita Arriaza, the mother of Victoria Esperanza Salazar who died in police custody, talks to the press in Antiguo Cuzcatlan, El Salvador, March 29, 2021.Newly released surveillance camera video, published by Mexican newspaper Reforma, showed Salazar looking frightened and holding on to workers in a convenience store just before police arrived at the scene, apparently in the run-up to her death. The Quintana Roo attorney general’s office has opened a homicide investigation into her death, which has led to the arrest of the four officers seen on videos of the incident. 
 

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ICC Upholds Acquittal of Former Ivory Coast President

Judges at International Criminal Court in The Hague have upheld the acquittal of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and youth minister Charles Ble Goude, paving the way for both to return home.  The two had been accused of instigating postelection violence, and observers said there were concerns that their return could again destabilize Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cocoa.Gbagbo and Ble Goude were in the courtroom for the verdict. Ble Goude smiled widely as Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji read it.”The appeals chamber by majority has found no error that could have materially affected the decision of trial chamber in relation to either of the prosecutors’ two grounds of appeal,” Eboe-Osuji said. “It therefore rejects the prosecutor’s appeal, and confirms the decision of the trial chamber.”The judge also revoked all remaining conditions on the men’s release. Gbagbo, who has been staying provisionally in Belgium, has said he wants to return to Ivory Coast, where he remains a heavyweight in the opposition against current President Alassane Ouattara.In a statement, Gbagbo’s defense team hailed the acquittal, saying justice had been done.Supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former youth minister Charles Ble Goude celebrate their acquittal outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021.In 2019, ICC judges acquitted Gbagbo and Ble Goude of crimes-against-humanity charges related to postelectoral violence in Ivory Coast in 2010 and 2011. The vote saw Ouattara defeating Gbagbo, who refused to concede.  Following an investigation of alleged atrocities that included perpetrating murder and rape, Gbagbo became the first former head of state to be arrested on orders of the ICC.The prosecution appealed the initial acquittal on procedural grounds, all of which were dismissed by the appeals judges, with two of them dissenting.In some cases, Eboe-Osuji offered particularly strong criticism of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s arguments, including her apparent suggestions that the first court had hadn’t fully considered all the evidence before coming to its verdict.”Judges of the ICC … are presumed to act with integrity and impartiality. The appeals chamber would expect evidence of a very clear nature to support such a serious allegation as was made,” Eboe-Osuji said.Wednesday’s ruling amounted to yet another setback for the ICC prosecution. Judges previously acquitted on appeal former Democratic of Republic of the Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Prosecutor Bensouda earlier dropped crimes-against-humanities charges against Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta.Bensouda is also under U.S. sanctions for launching an investigation into war crimes by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, champions of the 20-year-old ICC argue that its mission — as a court of last resort taking on extraordinarily difficult cases against powerful figures — is extremely challenging from the start.Bensouda’s nine-year term is up in June. British prosecutor Karim Khan will succeed her. 

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South Sudan Road Attacks Leave Nearly 30 Dead

A string of deadly road attacks in South Sudan, including one on a governor’s convoy returning from the scene of an earlier attack, have left nearly 30 people dead.
 
Officials in Eastern Equatoria state say gunmen killed a bodyguard of Governor Louis Lobong Lojore and a woman on Monday, a day after armed youths allegedly from the town of Kapoeta attacked an area called “Camp 15” where members of the ethnic Buya community reside.  
 
Governor Lojore said the motive behind Sunday’s incident was believed to be retaliation for an attack in 2020 on the SPLM-In Opposition cantonment site in the town of Lowuareng.
 
“There was an incident in Lowuareng where a small cantonment site which was there was turned into a small market and it was attacked by people suspected to be youth from Buya community killing five people, so it was based on that,” Lojore told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
 
Lojore traveled to Camp 15 on Monday to calm tensions following Sunday’s attack on the trading center.  A short time after the governor’s convoy left the camp to return to the state capital Torit Monday evening, gunmen attacked the convoy, killing two people and injuring three others, said state information minister Patrick Oting.
 
“They fell in an ambush and were attacked by the same Buya youths in Camp 15,” Oting told South Sudan in Focus.  The governor was uninjured.
 
Oting said Lojore’s convoy returned to Camp 15 after the attack.
 
“They withdrew from that place, the governor and all the dignitaries that were with him on the convoy including the commander of army in Torit, General Robert Okimo, back to the barracks in Camp 15 after the ambush,” said Oting.
 
With the presence of soldiers on the ground, Othing said the governor and his peace delegates hoped to continue their peace mission to the three communities of Buya, Didinga and Toposa in Eastern Equatoria.
 
In Central Equatoria state, gunmen killed another 10 people in two separate incidents on the same road. Four commuters including three drivers were killed Sunday while traveling on the Juba-Yei Road and six more travelers were killed by unknown gunmen on Monday.
 
At a Juba news conference Monday, Central Equatoria state officials accused National Salvation Front (NAS) rebels led by Thomas Cirillo of carrying out the attacks.
   
State information minister Paulino Lukudu said NAS forces also launched attacks in Lasu and Lata of Yei River County last week.
 
On Tuesday, NAS spokesperson Suba Samuel denied his group is responsible for the recent deadly attacks.
 
“We are not aware of these road attacks or road ambushes whatsoever. What we know is our forces are engaging [South Sudan army forces] south of Juba, in Otogo, in Mugo and yesterday it was in Mukaya,” Samuel told South Sudan in Focus.
 
Lukudu said he hopes Cirilo will actively engage in peace talks between the government and holdout groups under a coalition called the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance in Naivasha, Kenya.
 

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Italy Expels Two Russian Diplomats Accused of Espionage

Italy says it expelled two Russian diplomats and arrested an Italian navy captain Tuesday for their alleged involvement in espionage. The diplomats were expelled Wednesday, according to news reports. Italian police say the captain and a Russian Embassy official were arrested in a parking lot in Rome and were accused of “serious crimes tied to spying and state security.” Reuters reported that an Italian police official told them the captain was named Walter Biot and that he was accused of passing information in exchange for $5,900.  Italian news agency Ansa reported that some of the documents seized were NATO documents. Italian police said the arrests were the result of a lengthy investigation by national security and military officials. The Russian Embassy in Rome, March 31, 2021.After the arrests, Italy summoned the Russian ambassador, and two Russian officials allegedly involved in the incident were expelled.  Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio characterized the incident as “extremely grave,” Reuters reported. “During the convocation of the Russian ambassador to Italy at the Foreign Ministry, we let him know about the strong protest of the Italian government and notified the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this extremely grave affair,” the minister’s Facebook post said, according to CNN. Biot, 54, was reportedly working at the defense ministry in a department charged with developing national security policy and maintaining relations with Italy’s allies, Reuters reported. According to Reuters, Russian news agencies said the two expelled officials worked in the embassy’s military attaché office. They did not say if the person arrested in the parking lot was one of those expelled. Russian news agency Interfax reported that a Russian politician said it would reciprocate for the expulsions. But a Kremlin spokesman downplayed the incident. “At the moment, we do not have information about the reasons and circumstances of this detention,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to CNN. “But in any case, we hope that the very positive and constructive character of Russian-Italian relations will be preserved.” Both Bulgaria and the Netherlands have expelled Russian officials over spying allegations in recent months.  
 

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‘Falling Like Flies’: Hungary’s Roma Community Pleads for COVID-19 Help

Coronavirus infections are ravaging Hungary’s 700,000-strong Roma community, according to personal accounts that suggest multiple deaths in single families are common in an unchecked outbreak fueled by deep distrust of authorities.Data on infections in the community is unavailable but interviews with about a dozen Roma, who often live in cramped and unsanitary conditions, reveal harrowing stories of suffering and death and of huge health care challenges.”Our people are falling like flies,” said Aladar Horvath, a Roma rights advocate who travels widely among the community.When asked by phone to describe the overall situation, he broke down sobbing and said he had learned an hour before that his 35-year-old nephew had died of COVID.Another Roma, Zsanett Bito-Balogh, likened the outbreak in her town of Nagykallo in eastern Hungary to an explosion.”It’s like a bomb went off,” she said.”Just about every family got it. …People you see riding their bikes one week are in hospital the next and you order flowers for their funerals the third.”Bito-Balogh, who herself recovered twice from COVID-19, said that at one point she had 12 family members in hospital. She said she had lost two uncles and her grandmother to the virus in the past month, and a neighbor lost both parents, a cousin and a uncle within weeks.She says she is now rushing to organize in-person registration points for vaccines and plans to have the network up and running in a few weeks.Despite the challenges in persuading many Roma to turn to health authorities for medical care and vaccinations, Roma leaders are urging the government to do more to intervene and tackle what Horvath describes as a humanitarian crisis.Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said vaccinations would be rolled out to Roma but that the community needed to volunteer for their shots.”Once we get to that point, the younger Roma should get in line,” Gulyas said in answer to Reuters questions. The Roma community is predominantly young, which means their vaccinations are scheduled later than for older Hungarians.The government’s chief epidemiologist did not respond to requests for comment.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 11 MB480p | 16 MB540p | 22 MB720p | 46 MB1080p | 89 MBOriginal | 102 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioIn northern Hungary, one of the European Union’s poorest regions, many Roma who live with hardship in the best of times are facing hunger as the coronavirus brings the economy to a halt.Decades of mistrustBarely 9% of Roma want to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a survey carried out at Hungary’s University of Pecs in January but published here for the first time. It was conducted by Zsuzsanna Kiss, a Roma biologist and professor at Hungary’s University of Pecs.Kiss said the Roma have mistrusted doctors and governments for decades because of perceived discrimination.However, gaining Roma trust is not the only challenge.Hungary’s 6,500 general practitioners are leading the vaccine rollout, but 10% of small GP clinics are shut because there is no doctor to operate them, mostly in areas with high Roma populations, government data shows.Although the government has deployed five “vaccination buses” that tour remote areas, people must first register for inoculations.”The rise in cases (among the Roma) is clearly proportionate to vaccine rejection,” said former Surgeon General Ferenc Falus.”This more infectious virus reaches a population whose immune system has weakened greatly during the winter months. If they go without vaccines for long, it will definitely show in extra infections and fatalities among the Roma.”Hungary currently has the world’s highest weekly per capita death toll, driven by the more contagious variant first detected in Britain, despite a rapid vaccination rollout, data from Johns Hopkins University and the European Union indicates.”We never trusted vaccines much,” said Zoltan Varga, a young Roma also from Nagykallo.

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