President Joe Biden is getting both praise and criticism after doubling down on describing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine as “genocide” — the first time he’s used the term since the invasion began nearly 50 days ago — even as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for weeks has claimed that is what’s happening on the ground.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended his use of the term, as she did when Biden called Putin a “war criminal” and when he said “cannot remain in power,” saying Wednesday the president was simply expressing “what he feels.”
“The president was speaking to what we all see, and what he feels as clear as day in terms of the atrocities happening on the ground, as he also noted yesterday,” Psaki said, before tempering his use of the term. “Of course, there will be a legal process that plays out in the courtroom but he was speaking to what he has seen on the ground, what we have all seen in terms of the atrocities on the ground.”
Pressed directly on whether Biden’s comments might conflict with the U.S. policy, Psaki dismissed concerns and repeated the requirement of a “legal process” which can sometimes take years.
“He was not getting ahead of that. He was speaking on what he feels he sees on the ground,” she said.
“I do not think anybody is confused about the atrocities we are seeing on the ground — and different leaders around the world describe it in different ways,” Psaki added later on. “It is unquestionable that what we are seeing is horrific, the targeting of civilians, hospitals, children. The president was calling it like he sees it, and that is what he does.”
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State Department spokesperson Ned Price gave a similar line at his briefing Wednesday, saying Biden used the term based on “impressions that he has seen and that we all have seen,” but noted the U.S. is working with international lawyers to determine if Russia’s crimes meet the legal threshold.
During prepared remarks in Iowa Tuesday blaming inflation and gas prices on “Putin’s price hike,” Biden said, for the first time, “Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should on hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away.”
His use of the word raised questions among Washington reporters about whether it was an ad-libbed moment or a policy shift from the White House — until Biden later insisted he meant exactly what said.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” Biden told reporters after his remarks. “Because it has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian. And the evidence is mounting. It’s different than it was last week, the more evidence is coming out of the — literally, the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine and we’re going to only learn more and more about the devastation.”
Genocide is defined as an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” according to the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Biden went on to acknowledge the U.S. government has an internal, legal process for designating whether genocide has occurred but still stood by what he indicated was his opinion.
“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me,” Biden added.
Zelenskyy has argued — and pleaded — for weeks that Russia has met this definition and called on Western leaders to use the same term, so was quick to applaud Biden’s comments as “true words of a true leader.”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, blasted the comment as Putin indicated this week indicated his invasion won’t stop until his goals are met and said peace talks with Kyiv had reached a “dead end.”
“We consider this kind of effort to distort the situation unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday. “This is hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times.”
It’s not clear how many Western leaders will go as far as Biden and Zelenskyy — or what will take for them to reach the same conclusion.
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No other Western nations have made the determination, aside from Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tying Russia’s crimes to the term in a tweet. French President Emmanuel Macron suggested Wednesday he’s more “careful” with his words than the American president, saying only that “war crimes” have been confirmed.
“So far, it has been established that war crimes were committed by the Russian army and that it is now necessary to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Macron told France 2 in an interview.
“I am very careful with some terms [genocide] these days,” he added. “I’m not sure the escalation of words is helping the cause right now.”
Asked directly by ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce about Macron’s criticism Wednesday, Psaki declined to comment.
Macron also rebuked Biden’s language last month, when asked about Biden calling Putin a “butcher” and saying he “cannot remain in power” during remarks in Warsaw.
“I wouldn’t use those terms, because I continue to speak to President Putin,” Macron said in another interview with France 3. “Because what do we want to do collectively? We want to stop the war that Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without escalation.”
Biden stood by his words then, saying he was “expressing moral outrage” but also clarified that he wasn’t “articulating a policy change” amid some fallout.
It’s unclear now what pushed Biden to change his stance on using the term “genocide” — because asked directly last week if he thought the atrocities documented in Bucha were genocide, he said no.
“I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter, you saw what happened in Bucha,” Biden said on April 4. “He is a war criminal — but we have to gather the information, we have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue to fight, and we have to gather all the detail so this could be an actual — have a war crime trial. This guy is brutal. What’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone sees it.”
Asked directly, “You agree this is genocide?”
“No, it is a war crime,” Biden replied.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan followed Biden’s comment the same day by saying the administration had not yet seen the “systematic deprivation of life” necessary to meet the definition of genocide.
“This is something we, of course, continue to monitor every day. Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide,” Sullivan said.
23 years old Nigerian accused of raping Australian tourist in Indonesia
A 23-year-old Nigerian tourist risks 12 years in prison after an alleged sexual crime against a 31-year-old tourist in Kuta, Indonesia.
A report by Daily Mail revealed that the woman, who is an Australian, was raped after she met up with the Nigerian man on Friday, December 2.
The report also noted that the duo met on a dating app on December 1 and agreed to meet at a bar in Kuta the following day.
Although the Indonesian police are still searching for the Nigerian man, they alleged that he hurriedly took the woman to his hotel after drinking at the bar.
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The woman was sexually abused at the hotel and had cuts and bruises to her arms, hands and waist.
Witnesses said they saw the Australian staggering after drinking at the bar in Kuta.
FIJ gathered online that the Indonesian law provides a maximum of 12-year sentence for anyone convicted of physical sexual abuse.
Comoros ex-president Sambi jailed for life for ‘high treason’
A court in the Comoros on Monday handed down a life sentence for high treason to ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was convicted of selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.
Sambi, 64, an arch-rival of President Azali Assoumani, was sentenced by the State Security Court, a special judicial body whose rulings cannot be appealed.
“He betrayed the mission entrusted to him by the Comorians,” public prosecutor Ali Mohamed Djounaid told the court last week as he requested a life sentence.
Sambi, who led the small Indian Ocean archipelago between 2006 and 2011, pushed through a law in 2008 allowing the sale of passports for high fees.
The scheme aimed at the so-called bidoon — an Arab minority numbering in the tens of thousands who cannot obtain citizenship.
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The former president was accused of embezzling millions of dollars under the scheme.
The prosecution said the cost was more than $1.8 billion — more than the impoverished nation’s GDP.
“They gave thugs the right to sell Comorian nationality as if they were selling peanuts,” said Eric Emmanuel Sossa, a lawyer for civilian plaintiffs.
But Sambi’s French lawyer Jean-Gilles Halimi said “no evidence” of missing money or bank accounts had been put forward to suggest a crime.
Sambi refused to attend the trial after a brief appearance at the first hearing, as his lawyers said there were no guarantees he would be judged fairly.
He was originally prosecuted for corruption, but the charges were reclassified as high treason, a crime that “does not exist in Comorian law,” Halimi said.
Sambi had already spent four years behind bars before he faced trial, far exceeding the maximum eight months. He was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.
UK university workers begin strike over ‘falling pay, brutal workloads’
Thousands of university and college staff in the United Kingdom, including lecturers, librarians and researchers, have declared a strike to demand pay increase and improved working conditions.
The University and College Union (UCU), the UK trade union for university staff, said the strike, referred to as the biggest in decades, is to improve quality in the education sector.
The UCU “represents over 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians, technicians, professional staff and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK”.
“This is the biggest week in our history. Every single university takes strike action on Thursday and Friday. We need every member, student and supporter on our picket lines on Thursday to show the employers that this time is different,” the union said in a statement.
Announcing the strike on Wednesday, Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, warned of a “bigger action” unless employers improved their offers.
“Staff are burnt out but they are fighting back and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill,” she said.
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“Vice-chancellors only have themselves to blame. Their woeful leadership has led to the biggest vote for strike action ever in our sector. Students are standing with staff because they know this can’t go on.”
The strike, which began on Thursday, will also hold on November 25 and November 30.
Commenting on the development on Thursday, Grady expressed satisfaction with the turnout of university staff.
“Today’s picket lines are huge. 70,000 university staff have turned out like never before, defying bullying tactics from management to show they will no longer accept falling pay, pension cuts, brutal workloads and gig-economy working conditions,” she was quoted as saying, according to UCL.
“If vice-chancellors doubted the determination of university staff to save our sector, then today has been a rude awakening for them.”
The strike has affected over 2.5 million students, some of who are standing in solidarity with their lecturers.
Lawyers, nurses, postal workers and many others have also protested to seek pay rises that match the soaring inflation in the country.
The latest protests come after the UK’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers announced on Tuesday that more than 40,000 rail workers will stage strikes in December and January, disrupting travel for scores of people during the festive season.
The union said members will have demonstrations for four days from December 13 and in the first week of January.
The UK has been battling difficult economic situations due to surging energy costs arising from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Earlier in August, the Bank of England warned that inflation would climb to just over 13 percent in 2022.
It also projected that the country would enter a recession from the fourth quarter of 2022 until late 2023.
In November, the country’s inflation rate jumped in the last 12 months to 11.1 percent in October — up by one percent from August’s inflation rate.
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