India Bans Islamic Group for Alleged Terrorist Involvement  

India has banned an Islamic organization, accusing it of involvement in terrorism and calling it a threat to the country’s security.

The ban on the Popular Front of India was announced Wednesday following a countrywide crackdown that saw over 250 of its members arrested in recent days. The ban includes the group’s affiliates and will remain in place for five years.

A day before the group was outlawed, it had denied accusations of anti-national activities and called the action against its members a “witch hunt.”

Its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India, has denounced the action, calling it “a direct blow on democracy and the rights of the people.”

The government has listed a series of charges against the Popular Front of India, which was formed about 15 years ago.

It said that the group and its associates have been involved in “serious offenses including terrorism and its financing, gruesome targeted killings, disregarding the constitutional set up of the country.”

The Home Ministry said that the Popular Front of India had links with global terrorist groups and some of its members had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria and Iraq.

The government said the group has “been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalize a particular section of the society” while ostensibly operating as a socio-economic, educational and political organization.

The group first came drew attention after a court convicted several of its members for cutting off the hand of a college professor accused by some Muslim groups of asking derogatory questions about the Prophet Muhammad in an examination.

Although largely confined to a handful of southern Indian states for years, its influence had spread to other regions since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government came to power eight years ago.

Calls for a ban on the group grew after its role in fueling anti-government protests came to light in recent years.

Earlier this year, authorities in southern Karnataka state accused the Popular Front of India of supporting protests that erupted after a school banned female students from wearing hijabs. The group also supported demonstrations against a citizenship law that India enacted in 2019 that critics said discriminates against Muslims.

Senior ministers in the government welcomed the ban. Junior Foreign Minister V. Muraleedharan said that it showed that the Modi government “acts tough” with forces aiming to disrupt peace and stability.

The move comes at a time when critics have accused the government of discrimination against Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of the country’s population.

“Freedom of speech, protests and organizations have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution,” the Social Democratic Party of India said in a statement. It accused the government of misusing investigation agencies to “silence the opposition.”

Pointing out that the ban comes at a time “when there is a tendency of radicalization,” political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said “in that context if the assessment of the government is that this organization was becoming a threat to society and civil order, it is within its rights to impose a ban.”

But he added that there needs to be “an objective assessment” of the situation by intelligence agencies. “We know the tendency to move right is not confined to one social group, caste or region in the country. So, there is a need to keep a strict vigil on all,” according to Kidwai.

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Ukraine Calls for Isolation of Russia, More Military Aid for Ukrainian Forces  

Ukraine urged its backers Wednesday to make clear to Russia that “its attempts of annexation, blackmail and ultimatums” will only bring more support to the Ukrainian side in the conflict that began with the February invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.    

“Ukraine calls on the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven to immediately and significantly increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing new tough sanctions, and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine, including by providing us with tanks, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft and missile defense equipment,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.  

The appeal came as the Russia-installed leaders in Luhansk and Kherson appealed Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex those territories based on what they said was the support of residents. 

Russia-installed officials said 93% of ballots cast during the five days of voting in Zaporizhzhia supported annexation, along with with 87% in Kherson, 98% in Luhansk and 99% in Donetsk. Together, the regions make up about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.    

Ukraine, the United States and other Western countries have denounced the referendums as illegal. International recognition is highly unlikely. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Russia must be isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country.         

“There is only one way to stop this all,” he said by video. “First, it is the complete isolation of Russia in response to everything it does.”        

More sanctions should be imposed on Moscow, he said, and it should be deprived of its veto at the U.N. Security Council and suspended from all international institutions.  

“The annexation of the captured territories … is the most brutal violation of the U.N. Charter,” the Ukrainian president said. “This is an attempt to steal the territory of another state. This is an attempt to erase the norms of international law.”       

If Moscow annexes these territories, Zelenskyy said, it “will mean that there is nothing to talk about with the president of Russia.”    

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told council members that the referendums are not a “genuine expression of the popular will.”       

“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one state of another state’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” she said.       

“Now, Kyiv is being rejected not only by the people of Crimea and Donbas, but Kherson and Zaporoizhzhia regions,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told council members. “This process is going to continue if Kyiv does not recognize its mistake and its strategic errors and doesn’t start to be guided by the interests of its own people, and not blindly carry out the will of those people who are playing them.”        

There are concerns in Ukraine and the West that should the territories be annexed, Russian President Vladimir Putin would claim any attempt by Ukrainian military forces to recapture the land as an attack on Russia itself.        

Diplomatic action    

The United States and Albania have circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members condemning the referendums, calling on countries not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and compelling Russia to withdraw its troops from the country.      

“If Russia chooses to shield itself from accountability here in the council, we will then look to the U.N. General Assembly to send an unmistakable message to Moscow,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “The world must stand together and defend the Charter of the United Nations.”      

She told reporters after the meeting that she hopes to seek a vote in the Security Council either late this week or early next week.      

“We call on all U.N. members — everyone for whom the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders have meaning — to oppose Russia’s actions, condemn the referendums and their anticipated results, and never recognize any attempt to steal Ukrainian land through violence and terror,” Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha said.       

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Pipeline Leaks Appear to Be Result of Deliberate Act      

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that all indications are that leaks from two Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea “are the result of a deliberate act.” 

“We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security,” Borrell said in a statement. “Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.” 

The U.S. State Department said late Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the situation with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and that the United States “remains united with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security.”  

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted that the U.S. is supporting efforts to investigate the apparent sabotage.

Denmark’s defense minister Morten Bodskov is due to discuss the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to speculate on the cause” of the leaks, replied White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to questions about the incident Tuesday, adding that she had nothing to report on whether the United States had been requested by European officials to help determine the cause of the ruptures.

“An act of sabotage”

The 1,222-kilometer-long Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been, until recently, a major source of gas for Germany. Nord Stream 2, which is 1,234 kilometers in length, has yet to go into commercial operation.

“We have established a report and the crime classification is gross sabotage,” the Swedish national police said Tuesday, announcing a preliminary investigation into possible sabotage of Nord Stream 1.

“There are three leaks, and therefore it is difficult to imagine that it could be accidental,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen Tuesday.

“We see clearly that this is an act of sabotage – an act which likely means a further step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” concurred Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Frederkisen and Morawiecki spoke in Gloeniow in Poland at the opening ceremony for Baltic Pipe, part of a Polish plan to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. The line will connect Poland to Norwegian gas fields through Denmark.

“No option can be ruled out right now,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, regarding the possibility of sabotage, adding that the leaks are a cause for concern.

Russia closed Nord Stream 1 earlier this month, ostensibly for maintenance work.

The majority owner of the network’s operator, Nord Stream AG, is Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company.

“The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,” said NordStream AG in a statement. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure.”

“The biggest leak is spreading bubbles a good kilometer in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about 200 meters” in diameter, according to a statement from the Danish armed services, which included photographs of the leaks off the island of Bornholm.

Powerful blasts recorded Monday

Scientists in Europe say seismographs on Monday recorded powerful blasts in the Baltic Sea, the same day the two gas pipelines dropped pressure.

“There was a spike and then regular noise,” said Josef Zens, a spokesman for the German geological research center GFZ. “We cannot say if that could be gas streaming out.”

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” wrote Bloomberg Opinion columnist Javier Blas, quoting the late British author Ian Fleming.

“The leaks are more likely a message: Russia is opening a new front on its energy war against Europe. First, it weaponized gas supply, halting shipments, including via the Nord Stream pipeline. Now, it may be attacking the energy infrastructure it once used to ship its energy,” said Blas, author of The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources.

Amid much speculation on social media about who might have sabotaged Nord Stream there is no credible evidence of a likely culprit or motive. Analysts and amateurs on Twitter contend the Russians may have deployed divers or unmanned submersible vehicles to poke holes in the pipelines.

The leaks are a result of a “terrorist attack” and “an act of aggression” against the European Union, declared Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Ukrainian presidential office.

Some anonymous accounts on Twitter, parroting Russian state media, sought to blame Washington and Kyiv. On social media on Tuesday, a video clip from early February recirculated of Joe Biden vowing to “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 project if Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Kremlin has stated that if Western Europe wants Russian gas, it should end sanctions against Moscow imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seven months ago.

“My understanding is the leaks will not have a significant impact on Europe’s energy resilience,” Secretary Blinken said in Washington.

“This just drives home the importance of our efforts to work together to get alternative gas supplies to Europe and to support efforts to reduce gas consumption and accelerate true energy independence by moving to a clean energy economy,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told VOA.

While the impact to Europe ahead of the winter as a result of the loss of the pipelines remains to be seen, the trio of leaks poses an immediate hazard to wildlife and maritime navigation.

The gas could suffocate animals and is an explosion threat to passing ships, according to environmental groups.

Contributors include Patsy Widakuswara at the White House; Nike Ching at the State Department, and Chris Hannas in Washington. Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Horses Helping Wounded Ukranian War Vets Heal

Ukrainian war veterans who lost limbs in the war are undergoing a unique form of therapy that involves help from some four-legged friends. Omelyan Oshchudlyak has the story. Camera: Yuriy Dankevych

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UN Questions Taliban Claims of Good Security, Governance in Afghanistan

The United Nations warned Tuesday that de facto Taliban authorities are failing in their claims of security and good governance in Afghanistan as terrorist groups like Islamic State are increasingly conducting attacks across the country.  

 

“Some of the Taliban’s claimed and acknowledged achievements are eroding,” Potzel Markus, deputy head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, told the Security Council on Tuesday.  

 

“In the past months, there has been a steady rise in security incidents monitored by UNAMA, both armed clashes and criminality, as well as high profile, deadly terrorist attacks.”  

 

Claiming victory over foreign occupation, the Taliban say they have restored peace and tranquility in war-torn Afghanistan by reestablishing a purely Islamic emirate.  

 

The U.N. has now challenged such Taliban claims by warning the security situation in the country is actually deteriorating.  

“Our earlier warnings by the capabilities of the Islamic State Khorasan Province ISKP were dismissed by the Taliban, but ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbors, all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Markus.  

 

Earlier, UNAMA had reported a significant reduction in Afghan civilian casualties of war since the Taliban seized power. From mid-August 2021 to mid-June 2022, at least 700 civilians were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded in the country, mostly in attacks perpetuated by the ISKP – a marked reduction from 2020, when UNAMA reported 3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries.  

 

No Taliban representative was present at the Security Council’s meeting, but a diplomat from the former Afghan government and a Taliban opposition activist were invited. The U.N. has refused repeated calls from the Taliban to accredit their diplomats at the world body.  

 

Undemocratic governance  

 

Members of the Security Council also have condemned the Taliban for the group’s undemocratic and often repressive governance style.  

 

“On a daily basis, we hear reports from Afghanistan of Taliban repression, of night raids, extrajudicial killings and torture. Human rights defenders, journalists and media workers are being deliberately targeted,” said Fergal Mythen, Ireland’s representative to the U.N.  

 

Since seizing power, the Taliban have dissolved Afghanistan’s parliament and election bodies, and they have appointed a male-only cabinet made of Islamic clerics.  

“Most Afghans do not see themselves represented at all levels of governance. There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear,” said Markus.  

 

The U.N. has warned that the Taliban would push Afghanistan further into international isolation, poverty and internal strife unless the group fundamentally changes its governance.  

 

“Leaders who oppose half of the country’s population [women] will not gain legitimacy, not from the Afghan people and not from the international community,” said Mona Juul, Norway’s representative at the U.N. 

 

Taliban leaders have defended their governance, asserting the U.N. and other rights groups often present inaccurate and biased statements about the situation in Afghanistan. 

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Russia: Ukrainians Widely Support Annexation in Four Regions; West Calls Vote ‘Sham’    

Russia claimed Tuesday that early vote counting in what Western allies say are sham referendums showed Ukrainians in four regions overwhelmingly supporting joining Russia. 

State news agency RIA Novosti said that with about a fifth of the vote counted from the five days of balloting in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, more than 97% of the voters in all four regions favored annexation. Together, the regions comprise about 15% of Ukraine’s territory. 

The referendums have been widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries as an illegal exercise. No matter the outcome announced by Moscow, it is not expected to be accepted globally. 

But the balloting, and the widely expected outcome purportedly favoring annexation, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to unilaterally change the Russian-Ukraine border and annex the four regions. That, in turn, could portray any attack on them by Kyiv’s forces as an attack on Russia itself. 

He said last week that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia, a threat widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries that have sent billions of dollars to the Kyiv government to fend off Russia’s seven-month invasion. 

Ukraine has also repeatedly warned that Russian annexation of additional land would destroy any chance of peace talks. 

Some Ukrainians reported they were forced at gunpoint by Russian fighters to leave their homes to vote. Voting is ending Tuesday, with the U.S. saying in advance it will not recognize any outcome that Russia announces. 

“We stand with our partners around the world in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia announces,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday.   

“As far as what we are doing, we are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia, along with our allies and partners, in response to these actions that we’re seeing currently if they move forward with annexation,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve been very clear about that.”   

The voting began Friday in the Russian-controlled Luhansk and Kherson regions, and in occupied areas of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.       

Nuclear saber-rattling    

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and the country’s former president, said Tuesday that if Russia is threatened beyond a certain limit, it has the right to respond “without asking anyone’s consent and holding long consultations.” 

“Let’s imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime that has committed a large-scale act of aggression, which is dangerous for the very existence of our state,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. “I believe that NATO will steer clear from direct meddling in the conflict in that case.”  

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” show in an interview broadcast late Sunday that the United States has made it clear publicly and privately to Russia to “stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons.”  

“It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific, and we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken said.  

A U.S. State Department official said Putin gave the United States and its allies a gift last week by engaging in nuclear saber-rattling, calling for the troop mobilization and announcing the referenda while the U.S. was at the United Nations “talking about sovereignty and international peace and security.” The official said Russia “couldn’t have timed it better to put a spotlight on the grave offenses that Russia is committing to Ukraine and the international order.”    

Protests against mobilization  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported heavy fighting in several areas of Ukraine as he gave his nightly address Monday.   

“The situation is particularly intense in the Donetsk region,” he said. “We are doing everything to curb the enemy activity. That is where our number one goal is right now, as Donbas is still the number one goal for the occupiers.”   

Zelenskyy called Russia’s mobilization of 300,000 reservists “a sincere attempt to give commanders on the ground a constant stream of cannon fodder.”    

Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere.     

In Russia’s Siberia region Monday, a 25-year-old man shot a military commandant at an enlistment center, the local governor said.    

Many men opposed to Putin’s war or fearful of being killed on the battlefield have abruptly fled Russia on flights to other countries, while others have joined long lines of cars on land routes headed to the Russian borders with Finland, Georgia and other countries.   

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

 

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