Khan After Putin Visit: Pakistan to Import Wheat, Gas from Russia

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Monday that his country will import about 2 million tons of wheat from Russia and buy natural gas as well under bilateral agreements the two sides signed last week during his official trip to Moscow.  

Khan pressed on with his two-day visit and met with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday, hours after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, with Western countries pushing to isolate the Russian leader for his actions. 

On Monday, the Pakistani prime minister defended his trip and responded to critics in a televised speech to the nation, saying Pakistan’s economic interests required him to do so.  

“We went there because we have to import 2 million tons of wheat from Russia. Secondly, we have signed agreements with them to import natural gas because Pakistan’s own gas reserves are depleting,” Khan said.  

“Inshallah (God willing), the time will tell that we have had great discussions,” the Pakistani leader said, referring to his three-hour meeting with Putin. He shared no further details. 

Critics, however, are skeptical about Moscow-Islamabad economic collaboration, citing tougher international sanctions slapped on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.  

On Thursday, Putin warmly received Khan at the Kremlin in front of cameras, shook hands and sat just next to the visitor for what Pakistani officials said were wide-ranging consultations on bilateral, regional and international issues.  

“The Prime Minister regretted the latest situation between Russia and Ukraine and said that Pakistan had hoped diplomacy could avert a military conflict,” a post-meeting statement quoted Khan as telling Putin. 

Pakistani officials and Khan himself maintained that the Moscow visit was planned long before the Ukraine crisis erupted and was aimed solely at reviewing bilateral trade relations, including energy cooperation. 

Pakistan’s frosty relations with the United States, analysts say, have pushed the South Asian nation closer to its giant neighbors China and Russia in recent years. 

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who accompanied Khan on the visit, said after the delegation returned to Pakistan that Washington had contacted Islamabad ahead of the Moscow trip. 

“[U.S. officials] presented their position and we explained to them the purpose of the trip and went ahead with it,” Qureshi told reporters when asked whether the U.S. was opposed to the visit. “I’m convinced after the visit that we did the right thing.” 

Speaking on the eve of Khan’s trip to Russia, a U.S. State Department spokesman, when asked about it, said Washington believed that Pakistan, like “every responsible” country, would voice objection to Putin’s actions. 

But Pakistani leaders have avoided criticizing Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and stressed the need for seeking a negotiated settlement to the crisis.  

Islamabad also has developed close economic and military ties with Ukraine in recent years, with Pakistan being a major importer of Ukrainian wheat.  

Qureshi spoke to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday and reiterated Islamabad’s “serious concern at the situation, underscoring the importance of de-escalation, and stressing the indispensability of diplomacy.” 

Pakistan sided with the U.S. during the Cold War and played an instrumental role in arming as well as training Washington-funded resistance to the decadelong Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s.  

While Islamabad’s often uneasy relations with Washington have lately strained over the country’s backing of the Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan, ties between India and the U.S. have solidified in recent years due to shared concerns stemming from China’s growing influence in the region.  

India, Islamabad’s bitter foe, had close ties with Russia during the Cold War, as Moscow was a major arms exporter to New Delhi. 

Moscow has restored ties with Islamabad in recent years, however. The two countries routinely hold joint military exercises and are working to deepen energy cooperation to help Pakistan overcome shortages. 

Khan in his address Monday reiterated that Pakistan’s decision to join the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan was an outcome of “the wrong foreign policy” of his predecessors.  

“I maintained from day one that we should not have taken part [in the U.S.-led war],” he said, adding that Pakistan suffered 80,000 casualties because of an Islamist retaliation and incurred billions of dollars in economic losses.  

“The most embarrassing part was that a country was fighting in support of a country that was bombing it,” Khan said, referring to U.S. drone strikes against suspected militant hideouts in Pakistani areas near the Afghan border. 

Khan also announced a cut in fuel and electricity prices to help offset a steep rise in the global oil market because of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

He promised to freeze the new prices until the next budget in June. Critics said the move could result from opposition protests over rising inflation that officials blame on the coronavirus outbreak and tough economic reforms the government is undertaking in line with a $6 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. 


your ad here

US to Expel 12 Russian Diplomats at UN Mission for Spying

The United States said Monday that it was expelling 12 Russian diplomats based at Moscow’s U.N. mission in New York for engaging in espionage activities.

“The United States has informed the United Nations and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling twelve intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations spokesperson Olivia Dalton said in a statement. “We are taking this action in accordance with the U.N. Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months.”  

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that the U.S. gave them until March 7 to leave the country. He said that it is a “hostile action” by the U.S. government and violates Washington’s obligations as the host country of the United Nations.

Nebenzia also called the order “sad news” and said the U.S., the host country, was showing “gross disrespect” to its commitments “both under U.N. Charter and the Host Country Agreement, and Vienna conventions.” The Vienna Convention also applies to the treatment of diplomats.  

Nebenzia received the news in a phone call during a press conference about the Ukraine conflict. He said the U.S. had delivered a letter to Moscow’s New York mission with the decision.  

It is not the first time the U.S. has declared Russian diplomats at the U.N. persona non grata. Most recently, in 2018, the Trump administration expelled a dozen Russian diplomats from the U.N. mission on similar charges as tensions rose over a poisoning attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.  

Nebenzia also informed members of the U.N. Security Council of the development at the start of a meeting on the growing humanitarian crisis.  

“We keep being told about the need for diplomacy, diplomatic solutions. And at the same time, our opportunities to conduct this kind of activity are being restricted,” he said. “We deeply regret this decision and will see how events develop within the context of this decision.”  

U.S. envoy Richard Mills replied that the decision was taken in full accordance with the U.N. Headquarters Agreement.  


your ad here

Vatican Offers to Mediate End to Ukraine War

Pope Francis is suffering from acute knee pain and won’t preside over this week’s Ash Wednesday celebrations after his doctor ordered him to rest. Despite his health issues, the pope has launched efforts to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.

Pope Francis will not be presiding over the customary mass for the start of Lent at the Basilica of Saint Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill this year.

The pope’s knee ailment also forced him to cancel travel plans for the first time in his papacy. Francis was scheduled to celebrate mass Sunday in Florence for the closing of a meeting of bishops and mayors from the Mediterranean region.

But knee pain has not stopped the Pope from repeatedly voicing his concern about the developments in Ukraine.

On Friday, he visited the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to express those concerns in person.

The Pope has called for Ash Wednesday this week to serve as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine.

His worries were voiced again Sunday when he said his “heart is broken” and called for arms to fall silent.

Referring to those in search of refuge as brothers and sisters, the pope made an impassioned appeal for humanitarian corridors to help refugees leave Ukraine.

The Vatican has now said it is prepared to assist in any negotiation aimed at ending the war in the eastern European country. The Vatican’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in interviews published in Italian newspapers Monday that the Vatican is offering to facilitate dialogue with Russia. He said there is always space for negotiation.

Earlier, the head of the Italian Bishop’s Conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, announced the pope would not travel after speaking to the Holy Father on the phone.

Bassetti said the pope had given his strong backing to the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace” meeting in Florence and had wanted to attend but the doctor recommended that he take a “period of greater rest” for his leg.

It remains unclear whether the pope’s current knee problem is linked to previous sciatica conditions that have forced him to cancel some of his public appearances in recent times and has also caused him to limp. Only last month, the 85-year-old pontiff complained of a pain in his leg, saying it was worse when he remained standing.

Pope Francis underwent colon surgery in July in what was considered his most serious health issue since he was elected head of the Catholic Church in March 2013. After spending 10 days in a hospital, he appeared to recover well and soon returned to his daily activities.

your ad here

Ukraine President Appeals for Immediate EU Accession

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed Monday for the European Union to immediately admit Ukraine to the bloc, as the country battled a Russian invasion.

Zelenskyy posted photographs of himself on social media signing an application to join the 27-member nation EU. In a video, he said, “We appeal to the European Union for the urgent accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure.”

“We are grateful to our partners for being with us,” Zelenskyy said. “But our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on equal footing. I’m sure it’s fair. I’m sure we earned it. I’m sure it’s possible.”

It usually takes years for any country to officially join the EU, part of a multi-step process that often requires nations to make reforms to reach EU standards.

The head of Zelenskyy’s office, Andrii Sybiha, said on his official Facebook page that the documents requesting EU admission “are on the way to Brussels.”

The EU has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has offered military assistance to Kyiv as well as imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia and blocked Russian planes from EU skies.

Ukraine’s request comes after European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews in an interview Sunday of Ukraine: “They are one of us, and we want them in.”

However, Von der Leyen’s spokesperson, Eric Mamer, clarified Monday that the EU chief did not mean that Ukraine could join immediately.

He said Von der Leyen “specified that there is a process (for joining the EU). And I think that this is the important point.”

The application for Ukraine to join the EU, even if largely symbolic, is likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the West of trying to bring Ukraine under its influence.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

your ad here

Women Join Cameroon Militias to Fight Boko Haram

In the last few years, villages along Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria have formed militias to ward off Boko Haram militants and inform authorities about suspicious activities. These so-called vigilance committees were exclusively male until last year when a number of women joined. Anne Nzouankeu reports from Mora, Cameroon.

your ad here

South African Nonprofit Sues Health Ministry for Vaccine Transparency 

A South African activist group is suing the government to reveal details of its contracts with COVID-19 vaccine makers. The Health Justice Initiative says transparency is needed to ensure fair pricing and prevent corruption.

How much did South Africa pay for each unit of its COVID-19 vaccines and on what terms?

Those are some of the questions posed by health activists in a lawsuit filed last week against the country’s health department.

Fatima Hassan is the founder and director of the Health Justice Initiative.

“What we are arguing in our papers in the context of South Africa is that in a pandemic, when we had a state of disaster like we’ve had… there needs to be heightened checks and balances, we need to, you know, be able to hold the different decision makers to account,” she said.

She says freedom of information requests filed for the documents have gone unanswered.

Hassan says it’s not just a matter of what South Africa paid for vaccines, but also where the country falls in the context of the world’s response to the pandemic.

She wants to know if any stipulations were made that left some countries paying more or waiting longer for vaccines.

“What are the implications then for over agreements and contracts as almost, you know, every single country in the world has signed and put money on the table. Some people have had, you know, governments have had to borrow money. There’s also been a situation of, we believe, of like a case of double standards, where some countries are allowed to totally control the supplies,” she said.

South Africa’s health department spokesman Foster Mohale confirmed to VOA that its legal team is reviewing the court filing and will respond through legal channels.

Mohale said several contracts between the government and COVID-19 service providers have been released publicly. But, he added, contracts that include nondisclosure agreements cannot be released.

Legal experts say the necessity of nondisclosure agreements during the pandemic is hard to justify.

Geo Quinto is the director of the African Procurement Law Unit at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

“We know that there’s been nondisclosure agreements signed around the world dealing with the supply contracts — we don’t know why… There might be trade secrets contained in some of these contracts that would be detrimental to the business of the supplier, and that could justify the demand that those be kept confidential, but none of those reasons would justify a blanket confidentiality on contracts,” he said.

The Health Justice Initiative says nondisclosure of contracts leaves countries at risk of over-paying.

Fatima Suleman is a professor in the Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

“There’s the ability for pharmaceutical companies to obscure information and then, you know, start at a much higher price than they need to rather than actually working with governments to ensure maximum access… Pharmaceutical companies are getting stock to those that can pay the highest, they’re obscuring prices, they’re making large profits for their shareholders and themselves. And it’s not a public health imperative anymore for these companies, it’s an investment opportunity,” she said.

South Africa has faced numerous scandals related to spending for its COVID-19 response.

The country’s special investigation unit implicated a former health minister for allegedly laundering money through fraudulent contracts.

The Health Justice Initiative is now waiting for the government’s response to the lawsuit.

your ad here

Ukraine, Pandemic, Economy, Political Divisions, to Dominate Biden’s 1st State of the Union Address   

Escalating conflict in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and — as always — the economy, are likely to dominate President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The constitutionally mandated address is the rhetorical highlight of the year for the U.S. president. Joe Biden is no exception, but this year’s State of the Union — his first, although he has previously addressed a joint session of Congress — comes at an especially fraught time.

As if to underscore that, Capitol police said Sunday that they were taking extra precautions at the site of the speech.


“Out of an abundance of caution, and in conjunction with the United States Secret Service, a plan has been approved to put up the inner perimeter fence around the Capitol building for the State of the Union Address,” said United States Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger. “I have also requested support from outside law enforcement agencies as well as the National Guard to assist with our security precautions.”

Ukraine crisis

The White House says Biden is likely, during the Tuesday night speech, to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and, his wider view of the world. But press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that the situation is rapidly changing — and the president’s words may evolve before he speaks in front of legislators.

“We are in the middle of an active invasion,” she said Friday. “So I just can’t give you a preview of what that will look like in the State of the Union. As it relates to how the president views his approach to foreign policy — you know, the president ran for president wanting to return America’s seat at the world, wanting to return to a time where other leaders around the world could trust the word and the commitments of the United States, and what you have seen over the last few months, is the president deliver on exactly that.”

In the past week, Biden has delivered three speeches on the escalating crisis in Ukraine; but, in his deeply politically divided nation, analysts say Biden should expect a frosty reception when talking about what he describes as the greatest threat to global security since World War II.

“The country generally rallies behind a president when we face an international crisis,’ said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “If you watch [Fox News TV host] Tucker Carlson, or listen to Donald Trump, or know what many Republicans in Congress have been saying, we’re not going to get that rallying around the president by a significant share of the population. The tribal divisions are there now, for even things that affect American national security.”

Recent public opinion polls indicate the president’s approval rating has dipped since the early days of his administration, when the Gallup survey reported 57% of Americans said they approved of the job he was doing. The same group’s poll conducted in the first half of February reported Biden now has a 41% job approval rating.

Trump, the former president, has been outspoken in his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his animus toward Biden. On Monday, Trump criticized Biden’s energy policy and said, “This war should never have started in the first place.”

Trump continues to maintain, in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise, that the November 2020 election was rigged, and said that under his leadership, the U.S. “would right now continue to have record-low gas prices, as it was under my administration, and we would be supplying the world with oil and gas.”

It’s the economy, always

Presidents typically use this speech to sell Congress on their domestic agenda and bills they want to pass. And there is one topic every president is expected to cover in the State of the Union address, says Jeremi Suri, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

“He will argue that the economy is growing, that unemployment is low, and that we are going in the right direction and that inflation has to do with supply difficulties and pandemic difficulties, which he is working diligently to solve, and which will be resolved soon,” he said. “And every president comments on the economy because they all want to say the state of the economy is such that we are getting richer, we are doing better than ever before. The only exceptions when presidents don’t talk about the economy are when we are at war ourselves.”

One thing that is certain: America, and the world, will be listening to what he has to say. The address begins at 9 p.m. Washington time, on Tuesday.

your ad here

Ukraine Crisis: Will African Oil Producers Take Advantage of Increasing Oil Prices? 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the sanctions that followed, has pushed the price of oil to over $100 per barrel, the highest level in eight years. But, it’s also opened an opportunity for African oil producers like Nigeria, Angola, Libya, and Algeria to cash in with more crude oil exports. But a lack of refineries in Africa means crude oil exporters will also have to pay more for imported fuels.

The Brent crude oil prices hit $105 per barrel last week, it’s highest mark since 2014 and up by 47% since December, amid fears that supplies from Russia may be impacted by crisis.

Russia accounts for a significant amount of the world’s total crude oil output between 25-30% making it the second highest producer globally.

But experts say the crisis and sanctions slammed on Russia by Europe and America could significantly impact demand for Russian products and tip the odds in Africa’s favor.

“For Africa it’s a gain, it’s an opportunity, it presents that window of opportunity for African countries to see how they can increase their production capacity and meet the need of global demands of crude oil,” says Isaac Botti, a public finance expert.

However, Africa’s production combined accounts for less than a tenth of total global output. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil followed by Libya. Other notable producers are Algeria and Angola.

Experts predict oil prices will rise further but worry Nigeria could be facing a backlash.

“At the end of the day it’s going to hit on our economy. We may think that we’ll gain but remember we don’t refine out crude oil,” said economic analyst Paul Enyim.

Nigerian refineries have been shut down for about one year. The country depends on imports to meet it’s energy needs. Experts say prices paid for imported will also increase.

Authorities are also grappling with huge subsidies to keep pump price of oil products within affordable limits.

Last week Nigeria’s minister of state for Petroleum said authorities were not comfortable with the surge in prices of crude oil.

But this week, Algerian state-owned oil and gas giant said it would supply Europe if Russian exports dwindled as a result of the crisis.

Botti says it’s a good example for other African nations.

“We need to develop our capacity to produce locally, we need to look at various trade agreements that are existing,” he said.

For years African oil producers including Nigeria have been struggling to meet required daily output levels.

Experts however worry African producers may struggle to fit into the big market with increasing global demands for crude oil.

For weeks, Nigeria has been battling to normalize fuel supply in the country after authorities recalled millions of liters of adulterated petrol from circulation causing a major shortage in West Africa’s most populous nation.

As the crises between Russia and Ukraine lingers, experts say the shifting focus on Africa could be both a blessing and a burden.

your ad here

Rapid Testing for Malaria and COVID Set to Roll Out in Kenya

Kenya has ramped up its efforts to control the twin challenges of the coronavirus and malaria by introducing locally made testing kits for the two diseases. Kenya’s Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) says the kits offer quicker detection and will soon be exported to the region. Brenda Mulinya reports from Nairobi. Videographer and producer: Amos Wangwa

your ad here

EU, Russia Spat over Ukraine Overshadows Environment Summit

Anger at the Russian aggression against Ukraine spilled into the United Nations Environment Program Summit in Kenya Monday.  Delegates and leaders from over 100 nations are trying to agree on a treaty to tackle plastic waste.

While addressing participants, European Union representative Virgijus Sinkevicius veered off topic.

He said celebration of a possible deal on plastic waste is “saddened” by Russia’s act of aggression against its neighbor. He added, “In these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukrainians.”

The commissioner also called on Russia’s leadership to abide by international law and engage in dialogue with its neighbor.

A Russian delegate in the conference responded to the EU official by blaming the Ukraine government for not doing enough to avoid the conflict with his country.

At a news conference, United Nations Environment Assembly President Espen Barth Eide of Norway said it didn’t surprise him that controversy over the Ukraine conflict spilled over into the summit.

“The United Nations and other bodies have the right arena in dealing with peace and security and right now, the Security Council is with this issue. I think that’s the view of many, but I am not surprised this very dramatic situation appeared in statements but apart from that, both the executive director and myself make reference to it, as well as the way we have said just now this should actually strengthen our resolve, to demonstrate that there is something that works in the world and the multilateral system continues to deliver,” he said.

Russia is facing mounting international exclusion because of its invasion of Ukraine. Many western countries have imposed economic sanctions aimed at Russia and its leaders, and the world football governing body said football matches will not be played on Russian soil.

your ad here

Russian Media Sites Hacked; Anonymous Claims Responsibility

Many Russian media outlets have been hacked, with anti-war messages being placed on their websites, as Russia continues its massive, unprovoked attack on Ukraine.

Twitter accounts historically associated with Anonymous, the amorphous online activist community that first grabbed global attention about a decade ago, claimed it was behind the hacker attack.

Among the media outlets impacted were websites of such news agencies and newspapers as TASS, Kommersant, Izvestia, Fontanka, Forbes, and RBK.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin forces you to lie and puts you in danger. Why do we need it? So that Putin was added to textbooks? This is not our war, let’s stop him!” one of the messages read.

“This statement will be removed, and some of us will be fired or even jailed. But we cannot stand it anymore,” the statement signed by “Not indifferent journalists” said.

The official website of the Kremlin was down on February 26, following reports of denial-of-service attacks on various other Russian government and state media websites.

Anonymous also claimed it was behind that cyberattack as well.

your ad here

US Supreme Court to Weigh Limits to EPA Efforts on Climate Change

The Supreme Court is hearing a case its conservative majority could use to hobble Biden administration efforts to combat climate change.

The administration already is dealing with congressional refusal to enact the climate change proposals in President Joe Biden’s Build Better Back plan.

Now the justices, in arguments Monday, are taking up an appeal from 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies over the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The court took on the case even though there is no current EPA plan in place to deal with carbon output from power plants, a development that has alarmed environmental groups. They worry that the court could preemptively undermine whatever plan Biden’s team develops to address power plant emissions. Biden has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade.

A broad ruling by the court also could weaken regulatory efforts that extend well beyond the environment, including consumer protections, workplace safety and public health. Several conservative justices have criticized what they see as the unchecked power of federal agencies.

Those concerns were evident in the court’s orders throwing out two Biden administration policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Last summer, the court’s 6-3 conservative majority ended a pause on evictions over unpaid rent. In January, the same six justices blocked a requirement that workers at large employers be vaccinated or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, speaking at a recent event in Washington, cast the power plant case as about who should make the rules. “Should it be unelected bureaucrats, or should it be the people’s representatives in Congress?” Morrisey said. West Virginia is leading the states opposed to broad EPA authority.

But David Doniger, a climate change expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Supreme Court’s consideration of the issue is premature, a view shared by the administration.

He said the administration’s opponents are advancing “horror stories about extreme regulations the EPA may issue in the future. The EPA is writing a new rule on a clean slate.”

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.

But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.

New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.

Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.

The Biden administration has no intention of reviving the Clean Power Plan, one reason Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, argues the court should dismiss the case.

Some of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving 40 million people, are supporting the Biden administration along with prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla.

A decision is expected by late June.

your ad here

China Willing to Work With US on Build Back Better World Initiative

China is willing to work with the United States on a G7-led global infrastructure plan and welcomes Washington to join its Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday.

The Group of Seven (G7) richest democracies, consisting of United States and its allies, proposed the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative in June to help developing countries meet infrastructure needs, as they sought to counter China’s growing influence.

“We are also willing to consider coordinating with the U.S. ‘Build Back Better World’ initiative to provide the world with more high-quality public goods,” Wang said in a video message at an event for the 50th anniversary of the Shanghai Communique, which marked the normalizing of relations between United States and China.

He said China is also open to the United States participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Global Development Initiative, a call by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September for all countries to work towards sustainable development.

G7’s B3W initiative is seen as an alternative to rival China’s BRI, which was launched by Xi in 2013. More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.

Wang urged Washington to work with China in Asia-Pacific to build a “family of openness, inclusiveness, innovation, growth, connectivity and win-win cooperation”, rather than turn the region into one of conflict and confrontation.

The Shanghai Communique, a document which marked the end of isolation between both countries and issued during then U.S.

President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, meant that two major powers with different social systems were willing to coexist peacefully, he said.

Wang reiterated a call for the United States to stop supporting independence for Taiwan, a self-ruled island China claims as its own.

your ad here

Reporter’s Notebook: This is What Ukraine’s War Looks Like as We Worked Our Way out of Kyiv

A snapshot of war: the young tearfully saying goodbye to parents and grandparents who are too infirm or otherwise unconvinced to leave their homes. Some say they want to remain rooted in these uproarious times

your ad here

Putin Ally Lukashenko Expected to Order Belarusian Forces to Ukraine

US intelligence expects Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko to throw in his 48,000-strong army into the war raging in Ukraine in the next few hours or day and to reinforce Russia in its faltering invasion of Ukraine

your ad here

Sporting Sanctions Can Land Significant Blow on Putin, Say Experts

Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup, the scandal-plagued 2014 Winter Olympics and Gazprom’s sponsorship of the Champions League were powerful tools for the country’s global image and gained Vladimir Putin prestige amongst the Russian population.

However, the Russian president’s decision to invade Ukraine has resulted in destroying the warm global afterglow and experts believe it could cost him dearly internally.

Saint Petersburg has already been stripped of hosting this year’s Champions League final with Gazprom’s reported 40-million-euro ($45 million) a year sponsorship deal with UEFA also in doubt. 

The Russian Formula One Grand Prix has been cancelled and there are calls for the country’s football team to be expelled from the 2022 World Cup play-offs. 

“Sport has always had a tremendous impact on society,” Michael Payne, former head of marketing at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told AFP. 

“The South African sports boycott over apartheid probably had as much or greater impact than economic sanctions, over forcing regime policy change.”

For Hugh Robertson, Chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), a blanket sports ban could affect Putin’s standing domestically.  

“Sport is disproportionately important to absolutist regimes,” he told AFP. 

“The potential inability to compete would hit Russia hard.”

Payne, who in nearly two decades at the IOC was widely credited with transforming its brand and finances through sponsorship, said Putin risked his standing with his own people. 

“Putin may not care what the rest of the world thinks of him, but he has to care what the Russian people think of him,” said the Irishman.

“Lose their support and it is game over -– and the actions of the sports community has the potential to be a very important influencer towards the Russian people.”

‘A greater good’ 

Prominent Russian sports stars have not been shy in voicing their disquiet over Putin’s invasion.

Andrey Rublev, who won the Dubai ATP title on Saturday, veteran Russian football international Fedor Smolov, United States-based ice hockey great Alex Ovechkin and cyclist Pavel Sivakov, who rides for the Ineos team have all expressed a desire for peace. 

“Russian athletes speaking out to their national fan base, will only serve to further prompt the local population to question the actions of their leadership, and undermine the local national support for the war,” said Payne. 

However, another former IOC marketing executive Terrence Burns, who since leaving the organization has played a key role in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, has doubts about their impact.

“You are making the assumption that Russian people actually see, read, and hear ‘real news’,” he told AFP. 

“I do not believe that is the case. The Government will portray Russia as a victim of a great global conspiracy led by the USA and the West. 

“It is an old Russian trope they have used quite effectively since the Soviet days.”

Burns says sadly the athletes must also be punished for their government’s aggression.

“I believe that Russia must pay the price for what it has done,” he said.

“Sadly, that has to include her athletes as well. 

“Many people, like me, believed that by helping them host the Olympics and World Cup could somehow open and liberalize the society, creating new paths of progress for Russia’s young people. Again, we were wrong.”

Robertson too says allowing Russians to compete when Ukrainians are unable to due to the conflict is “morally inconceivable.” 

Payne says individual sports have to look at a bigger moral picture than their own potential losses over cutting Russian sponsorship contracts. 

“The sports world risks losing far more by not reacting, than the loss of one or two Russian sponsors.” 

Former British lawmaker Robertson, who as Minister for Sport and the Olympics delivered the highly successful 2012 London Games, agrees. 

“The sporting world may have to wean itself off Russian money,” said the 59-year-old.

“Over the past few days, it has become apparent that political, economic and trade sanctions will hurt the West as well as Russia, but this is a price that we will have to pay to achieve a greater good.”

For Robertson sport could not stand idly by in response to Russia’s invasion. 

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine will impact sport but the consequences of inaction, or prevarication, will be far more serious.” 

your ad here

New Orleanians Hail Resumption of Mardi Gras Celebrations

Ebbing COVID-19 cases help propel the Crescent City back to life after last year’s cancellation of Fat Tuesday festivities

your ad here

Las Vegas Police Search for Suspects in Hookah Bar Shooting

Las Vegas police searched Sunday for suspects a day after after 14 people were shot during a party at a hookah lounge, leaving one man dead and two others critically wounded.

Detectives believe two suspects who they did not identify exchanged gunfire inside the hookah bar and fled before police arrived before dawn Saturday, police said.

Dispatchers received calls at about 3:15 a.m. about multiple victims suffering from gunshot wounds after an altercation at Manny’s Glow Ultra Lounge & Restaurant.

Police didn’t immediately provide an update Sunday on a possible motive for the shooting, release new details or provide information about the suspects they were seeking.

The injured people were taken to University Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, but officials on Sunday didn’t immediately provide condition updates about the 13 remaining patients. While police had described the condition of two victims on Saturday as critical, they did not disclose details about the nature of their injuries.

Authorities on Saturday characterized the shooting as an “isolated incident” and said there was no threat to the general public.

Police Capt. Dori Koren said the fatally shot victim will be identified by the Clark County Coroner’s Office.

Investigators at the scene on Saturday interviewed victims, tried to get surveillance video from neighboring businesses and looked for stray bullets and other evidence, Koren said. Crime scene analysts were trying to determine the types of guns used used in the shooting.

Hookahs are water pipes that are used to smoke specially made tobacco that comes in different flavors.

your ad here

Belarus Votes to Give Up Non-nuclear Status

Belarusians voted Monday to allow the country to host nuclear weapons and Russian forces permanently, results showed, part of a package of constitutional reforms that also extended the rule of leader Alexander Lukashenko.

The referendum was held Sunday as the ex-Soviet country’s neighbor Ukraine is under attack from Russian troops and delegations from Moscow and Kyiv are expected to meet for talks on the Belarusian border.

Central Election Commission head Igor Karpenko said 65.16% of referendum participants voted in favor of the amendments and 10.07% voted against, Russian news agencies reported.

According to Karpenko, voter turnout stood at 78.63%. 

To come into force, the amendments need to receive at least 50% of the vote with a turnout of over half the electorate.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, promised the referendum in the wake of historic protests against his disputed re-election in 2020.

By amending the constitution Lukashenko, 67, follows in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in 2020 oversaw a vote on constitutional changes that made it possible for him to remain in power until 2036.

The constitutional changes also grant immunity to former leaders for crimes committed during their term in office.

Russia is a key ally of Belarus and last week Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine from the north. 

Belarus inherited a number of Soviet nuclear warheads following the break-up of the USSR in 1991, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative think tank, which it then transferred to Russia.

Lukashenko first floated possible changes after a presidential vote in August 2020 sparked unprecedented demonstrations that were met with a brutal crackdown.

He claimed a sixth term in the vote and imprisoned leading opposition figures, while his main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was forced to seek refuge in neighboring Lithuania.

The amendments would reinstate presidential term limits — previously ditched by Lukashenko — to two five-year terms, but they would only apply to the next elected president.

Were Lukashenko to put himself forward as a candidate for re-election in 2025, he could remain in power for an additional 10 years.

Tikhanovskaya’s office in Lithuania has hit out at the vote, saying that a sweeping crackdown on any dissenting voices since the 2020 election made any real discussion of the proposals impossible.

your ad here

Capitol Ditches Mask Requirement Ahead of State of the Union

Face coverings are now optional for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, as Congress is lifting its mask requirement on the House floor after federal regulators eased guidelines last week in a rethinking of the nation’s strategy to adapt to living with a more manageable COVID-19.

Congress’ Office of the Attending Physician announced the policy change Sunday, lifting a requirement that has been in place for much of the past two years and had become a partisan flashpoint on Capitol Hill. The change ahead of the speech will avoid a potential disruptive display of national tensions and frustration as Biden tries to nudge the country to move beyond the pandemic.

The nation’s capital is now in an area considered low risk under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new metrics, which place less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening in community hospitals. The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Healthy people in those risk areas can stop wearing masks indoors, the agency said.

Mask-wearing will still be a personal choice in Congress and special precautions will be in place for Biden’s speech, which unlike last year’s joint address will be open to all members of Congress. All attendees will be required to take a COVID-19 test before entering the chamber ahead of Biden’s address.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced initial guidelines earlier this month from the Office of the Sergeant at Arms that included a threat that violation of guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing during the event would “result in the attendee’s removal.”

The new policy eases the fears of some Biden allies who had been gearing up for potentially disruptive protests from Republicans to the policies. Some GOP lawmakers have racked up thousands of dollars in fines for violating mask-wearing mandates on the House floor.

The relaxed guidance comes as Biden aims to use his remarks to highlight the progress against COVID-19 made over the last year, including vaccinations and therapeutics, and guide the country into a “new phase” of the virus response that is not driven by emergency measures and looks more like life pre-pandemic.

Seating for Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, last April, was capped at about 200 — about 20% of usual capacity for a presidential presentation — and White House aides fretted that a repeat would be a dissonant image from the message the president aimed to deliver to the American people.

“I think you’re going to see it look much more like a normal state of the union than the president’s joint address,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Saturday. “It’s going to look like the most normal thing people have seen in Washington in a long time.”

The Capitol move comes just a day before Washington’s mask mandate expires on Monday, and as a host of states and local governments have begun implementing the new CDC guidelines and lifting mask-mandates indoors and in schools.

Caseloads across the country have dropped precipitously since their early January peak, with the omicron variant proving to be less likely than earlier strains to cause death or serious illness, especially in vaccinated and boosted individuals.

your ad here

Euro Backlash as FIFA Refuses to Expel Russia From Football

FIFA drew a swift backlash from European nations for not immediately expelling Russia from World Cup qualifying Sunday and only ordering the country to play without its flag and anthem at neutral venues under the name of its federation — the Football Union of Russia.

Protesting against FIFA’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland said it would still refuse to play the country in a World Cup playoff semifinal, which is scheduled for March 24.

“Today’s FIFA decision is totally unacceptable,” Polish football federation president Cezary Kulesza tweeted. “We are not interested in participating in this game of appearances. Our stance remains intact: Polish National Team will NOT PLAY with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is.”


The unanimous ruling by the FIFA Bureau, featuring the six regional football confederation presidents, said the Russian flag and anthem can’t be associated with the team playing as “Football Union of Russia (RFU).”

“FIFA will continue its ongoing dialogue with the IOC, UEFA and other sport organizations to determine any additional measures or sanctions,” FIFA said in a statement, “including a potential exclusion from competitions, that shall be applied in the near future should the situation not be improving rapidly.”

The decision adopts the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling before the invasion of Ukraine, punishing Russia’s cover-up of the investigation into state-sponsored doping. It meant the Russians had to compete at the last two Olympics as the ROC team. FIFA had stalled implementing the ban on Russia competing under the country’s name until a potential qualification for the World Cup.

The winner of the Russia-Poland playoff is due to host Sweden or the Czech Republic on March 29 to decide who advances to the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 World Cup in Qatar.

Swedish federation president Karl-Erik Nilsson, the senior UEFA vice president, told the website Fotbollskanalen that he was not satisfied with the FIFA decision with a “sharper stance” expected. The Czechs said the FIFA compromise did not change their decision not to play Russia.

FIFA said it had engaged with the three associations and would remain in “close contact to seek to find appropriate and acceptable solutions together.”

Separately, the English Football Association announced that its national teams would refuse to play Russia for the “foreseeable future.” Russia has qualified for the Women’s European Championship which is being hosted by England in June.

The English FA said the decision was taken “out of solidarity with the Ukraine and to wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities being committed by the Russian leadership.”

The RFU’s president is Aleksandr Dyukov, who is chief executive of a subsidiary of state-owned energy giant Gazprom and also sits on the UEFA executive committee.

In France, the football federation president Noël Le Graët told the Le Parisien daily Sunday that he was leaning toward excluding Russia from the World Cup.

“The world of sport, and in particular football, cannot remain neutral,” said Le Graët, who sits on the ruling FIFA Council and has recently been a close ally of the governing body’s president, Gianni Infantino.

A strict reading of FIFA’s World Cup regulations would even make the Polish, Swedish and Czech federations liable to disciplinary action and having to pay fines and compensation if they wouldn’t play Russia.

In 1992, however, FIFA and UEFA removed Yugoslavia from its competitions following United Nations sanctions imposed when war broke out in the Balkans.  

The FIFA Bureau, which is chaired by Infantino, includes UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

As Russia’s war on Ukraine entered a fourth day on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin temporarily lost his most senior official position in world sports. The International Judo Federation cited “the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine” for suspending Putin’s honorary president status.

The Russian president is a keen judoka and attended the sport at the 2012 London Olympics.

There was an abrupt resignation Sunday from the Russian who is president of the European Judo Union, with Sergey Soloveychik referencing the “heartache that we see the people in brotherly countries die” but backing his country.

“No one doubts that my heart belongs to judo,” he said. “But it is equally true that it belongs to my homeland, Russia. We, judoka, must always be loyal to our principles.”

In Putin’s other favorite sport, ice hockey, Latvian club Dinamo Riga withdrew Sunday from the Russian-owned and run Kontinental Hockey League citing the “military and humanitarian crisis.”

your ad here

Chad Peace Talks in Qatar Delayed

Talks between Chad’s military-led government and armed rebel groups due to start Sunday in Qatar have been postponed, African diplomats and officials said.

The talks are aimed at paving the way for an “inclusive national dialogue” and elections which the leader of the Chadian junta Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno has promised by October.

Deby took over as head of a Transitional Military Council (TMC) in the poor landlocked central African country after his father, Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled Chad for three decades, was killed in fighting with rebels in April last year. 

African diplomats in Doha said Sunday’s talks in Qatar had been delayed because preparations for the meeting had not been completed.

“Some delegations are here. The talks did not start today but could start in coming days,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told AFP on condition of anonymity as no-one was authorized to speak publicly.

Chadian sources close to the negotiations told AFP in N’Djamena that the junta was insisting on inviting more than 80 members of the 23 armed rebel groups — a request initially denied by Qatar.

Other sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed the delay on difficulties for would-be participants — some of whom live in Libya or Sudan — to obtain travel documents.

After taking power in last April, Deby, 37, dissolved Chad’s parliament and repealed the constitution, but he promised “free and transparent” elections within 18 months.

However, a national forum designed to chart the country’s future has been put back from February to May. Preliminary talks have also been held up several times amidst recriminations between the government and opposition.

In mid-February, Chad’s military junta accused prominent rebel leader Timan Erdimi, who heads the powerful Union of Resistance Forces, of seeking to bring in Russian mercenaries to derail the reconciliation process.

Erdimi, who was one of the fiercest opponents of Deby’s father, was contacted by AFP at the time but refused to comment on the allegation.

The African Union, European Union and France, the former colonial power, have supported the junta leader but insisted he must keep to his promised timetable to hold elections.

your ad here

Russia Continues War on Ukraine Ahead of SOTU Speech

The United Nations Security Council is set to vote Sunday for a rare emergency special session against the backdrop of Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. The vote underscores White House claims of international unity in support of Ukraine and comes ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech Tuesday. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more

your ad here